Dedicated members of the boating community in the North East have been recognised for their exceptional commitment to the sport in this year’s RYA Volunteer Awards.

They are among 44 ‘unsung heroes’ celebrated in the RYA Volunteer Awards 2020, which are held annually to say ‘thank you’ to those who have given countless hours of their time.

Dave FinlayVolunteer Dave Finlay from Derwenthaugh Sea Cadets has been recognised for his dedication to helping young people get on the water with a Lifetime Commitment Award.

Dave, of Wallsend, is a chief instructor and has been a volunteer with the Sea Cadets for more than three decades since leaving the Royal Navy in 1989. Outside of 2020’s Covid-19 lockdown periods, the air conditioning engineer is busy teaching at the unit most weekends and on many evenings. He also started a sailing development programme which has seen many Sea Cadets go on to become Assistant Instructors, and the unit is now an RYA Training Centre, offering courses and activities for young people from across the region.

Dave said: “I was a Sea Cadet and I enjoyed it so when I left the Navy it was a natural step to go back to the Sea Cadets to help out. Boating is a big part of it and it’s the kids that inspire me to volunteer. When you put a kid on the water who says, ‘I can’t do it’, and within 15 minutes they’re sailing around buoys, the look on their faces is just amazing. Then, when they remember doing that and 3 to 4 years later step up as an instructor and come back to teach for you, that’s rewarding. I enjoy watching the children progress. We take them from walking in off the street right up to instructor level if that’s what they want to do.”

Pam Cousen, credit Paul HargreavesVolunteer Pam Cousen from Yorkshire Dales Sailing Club has been recognised for her dedication with an RYA Community Award for Outstanding Contribution, having been at the heart of the club’s catering services for more than a decade.

Although the retired home economics teacher does not sail herself, she is a much-loved member of Yorkshire Dales SC, having been invited to help set up the galley by treasurer Phil Whitehead - Pam’s brother - when the new club house was built and opened in 2008.

Pam, who had recently retired from Ashville College in Harrogate, applied her expertise and organisational skills to design and equip the galley and has had a leading role in helping to provide catering at the club ever since. Over the years she has recruited and trained numerous young members to help out, all of whom have achieved their Food Hygiene Certificate. The club’s catering is legendary in sailing circles and thanks to Pam’s rigorous high standards the galley consistently earns five-star ratings from inspectors.

“I love doing it because there are lots of young people at the club and all of the members are lovely,” says Pam, aged 70. “We have big events but I also enjoy just the normal Saturdays and Sundays, when the children come with their parents and sit down and have a meal together. It’s about giving something back into the community. I don’t know one end of a boat really from another and I’ve never been out in one, but it’s the most fabulous club and if I can help, that’s just great. It’s been a really nice part of my life.”

Barbara DarlingThe very first winner of the new RYA Honor Preston Award - presented to an individual who has made a significant contribution in time, effort and personal endeavour to increase the inclusivity of boating - is Barbara Darling from Ripon Sailing Club and the National School Sailing Association. Sadly, Barbara passed away shortly before news of the award could be shared with her. The family accepts the award on her behalf in recognition and celebration of her contribution and legacy.

Barbara learned to sail in the 1960s at Tynemouth Sailing Club. A secondary school maths teacher, she was involved with the early set up of the NSSA and became a Senior Instructor, taking groups sailing locally as well as to the NSSA national regatta events. Her home clubs of Ripon Sailing Club, Tynemouth Sailing Club, Bassenthwaite Sailing Club and Derwent Reservoir Sailing Club all benefitted from her enthusiasm, commitment and drive to develop training and opportunities for all.

Barbara had a long-term association with the NSSA and regionally set up the North East Youth Traveller Series in the mid-1990s, mirroring the success of the Yorkshire & Humberside Schools (now Youth) Traveller Series she helped start in the 1980s. Barbara’s involvement in helping deliver sailing programmes across a wide range of demographic groups stemmed from her interest in people and her passionate belief that everyone deserved a helping hand and the opportunity to flourish, regardless of personal circumstance. 

To find out more about each of our winners in the region, visit RYA Volunteer Awards 2020.

There is usually a glittering awards ceremony in London but this year, due to the ongoing pandemic, the awards will be presented at local sailing clubs and venues.

Sarah Treseder, RYA Chief Executive, said: “The generosity and dedication of each of the RYA Volunteer Award recipients is simply outstanding and it’s a pleasure to be able to recognise these winners.”