Ripon Sailing Club in North Yorkshire has been shortlisted for a prestigious national award following a hugely successful year both on and off the water despite the challenges of the Coronavirus pandemic.

The volunteer-run club is one of 10 finalists from across the UK selected for the RYA and Yachts & Yachting Club of the Year Awards 2021, supported by Gallagher.

A public vote will help to decide the overall winner and members are hoping sailors in the region and local people will vote for the club in its bid to claim the title and bring the trophy home.

The club maintained its community spirit through lockdowns by moving its regular activities online, with virtual e-Sailing, Zoom fitness sessions, quizzes and coaching, including some sessions delivered by its talented up and coming youth sailors.

Ripon SC members were then among the first sailors back on the water when government restrictions eased to allow watersports in between lockdowns, with informal sailing and racing, junior sessions, training and radio controlled sailing. 

Commodore Jamie Kerslake said the club’s responsiveness to the uncertain times of 2020 had seen it not only retain 100% of its members but also gain new ones: “Although members were unable to access the club at times, we’ve worked hard to provide support and engagement through online activities and have also enabled members to get back on the water safely within Covid-19 guidelines.

“The club is run by members, for members, to make the sport as accessible as possible for all ages, and we’ve managed to continue to grow and develop despite the difficulties of 2020. I am so proud of the club, our committee and our membership, past and present.

"Everyone has contributed in some way, large or small, to the club being shortlisted for this national award, and as a community club we are really hoping people will vote for us!”

Virtual programme

At the very start of the Covid19 lockdown, the committee agreed that continued engagement with the club’s membership was paramount and swiftly introduced a variety of ways to do this.

Jamie says: “Using Zoom we had regular online sessions each week which provided structure at a time when many families were looking for regular activities led by familiar faces. Whilst providing continued skill development they also provided a vital social element, which helped reduce feelings of isolation and significantly increased the support network between members.”

Sessions including Sailwave, rules discussions, quizzes, circuit training and sailing theory, led by a range of members, and brought members across various fleets, skill levels and ages together.

Using youth members to deliver some of the sessions provided new perspectives and allowed junior members to look to them as role models and aspire to carry on developing their own skills.   

Virtual Regatta e-Sailing had Zoom calls alongside for chatting and sharing tactics, which again introduced people from different groups within the club, bringing the membership closer together.

The club invested in a Zoom package which enabled coaching sessions to be recorded, worked with members to review the best times to hold online sessions, and held sessions on regular days and evenings to give members a sense of routine and belonging. 

As Jamie explains: “We tailored our online activities according to demand, ability and demographics and regularly reviewed our efforts to ensure that we were inclusive to all members of the club, regardless of age or ability. This saw a wide range of participants with some of our senior members of the club engaging with our junior members in a way which we had not achieved before.”

Return to boating

Club members were among the first in the country to return to sailing and the club has worked within the ever-changing restrictions to maximise opportunities for members to get on the water, first with informal sailing and then racing and junior sessions. Radio controlled sailing with social distancing on shore has also proved popular.

Risk assessments, signage and sanitiser around the club and its grounds, and training for safety crew to enable single-person rescue cover in RIBs, has enabled lots of activity at the club despite the difficulties of the pandemic. The club saw a surge of enquiries from people interested in training courses, plus an increase in membership applications. 

The club plans to now continue driving engagement through both its on-site and online offer, with the latter now set to be a feature going forward particularly at times when engagement is naturally lower, during the colder months of winter. 

Previously recorded material will supplement on-water coaching, along with online instructor/coach development sessions, and the club AGM in January is also likely to use a virtual platform.

Jamie said: “As restrictions ease and our club activities return to a sense of normality, we plan to offer online resources in addition to our usual training and coaching. This is a natural progression of our learnings this season… providing a valuable tool going forward which we plan to harness.”

Ripon SC’s strategic development plan for the future aims to encourage club responsibility towards members and vice versa; sustainability across all areas, including volunteer recruitment, financial management, environmental impact and club facilities; and contribution from all members. The club’s ethos is ‘by members, for members’ with the aim of getting more people sailing, more often.

Spotlight on clubs

The annual RYA and Yachts & Yachting Club of the Year Awards recognise the achievements of sailing clubs across the UK and the hard work and dedication that goes into running a successful club.

Michelle Gent, RYA Programmes Manager said: “A huge congratulations to all 10 Club of the Year finalists. This has been an especially challenging year for clubs and the people involved in the running of these organisations have worked tirelessly so that others can safely get afloat.”

Rob Peake, group editor of Sailing Today with Yachts & Yachting, added: “A good club will show you how to get better at sailing and encourage you to continue sailing. A great club will help you simply enjoy sailing – and it will welcome people from all parts its local community. The Club of the Year Award is unique in that it recognises the hard work that goes on behind the scenes by volunteers to make sailing clubs great, and to encourage more people into our sport.”

 Voting will close on 25th January 2021 and the overall winner will be announced at the RYA Virtual Dinghy Show in Spring. To cast your vote for Ripon SC visit: RYA and Yachts & Yachting Club of the Year.