A lot of comment has been made about how the Covid-19 situation
has brought out the best in people – compassion, kindness, creativity and care.
Whitefriars Sailing Club (WSC) members have been demonstrating those qualities
for many years – which is why it’s known as ‘the friendly club’ – so in a way,
they found themselves ready for everything the crisis threw at us all.
Commodore Tony Jackson explains that engagement, empowerment
and involvement have been crucial in keeping the club as vibrant and active in
lockdown as in the good times. “This club belongs to the members and they feel
that very keenly – I’m the commodore helping them run their club. We’ve always
welcomed everyone, of all ages and abilities, and that family ethos means that
when the lockdown came, we could carry on doing the same things, but
differently! People all started asking how they could help – they wanted to
give, not take.”
WSC is a tight-knit community with a very active Sailability
group and a massive spectrum of sailing ability and intellectual capacity. Everyone
has been included in the very creative and incredibly popular programme of activity
that has emerged during lockdown.
Social media, Zoom, virtual sailing and more
The club SI, Rupert Whelan, has been creating sailing
scenarios with little boats on his living room carpet and posting them with
questions on Facebook. He’s had a huge response, and some very funny comments.
For example, does a chair leg count as a navigable obstruction?
Members have played cards together, entered an online Mr and
Mrs contest (Tony isn’t aware of any divorces pending) and taken part in
regular Zoom calls. And, of course, there are Virtual Regattas on Wednesday
evenings and Sunday mornings, just like normal club racing. This is taken very
seriously, according to Tony: “Sometimes a couple will use devices in different
rooms so they can race each other.”
A particular highlight of the lockdown for all members has
been the fortnightly Friday night quizzes on Zoom. Run by Nicky Durston, the
quizzes are fun, family-friendly and very popular – so much so, that Nicky has
now set up a nationwide virtual quiz together with RYA DDO Leon Ward for every
Sailability group in the UK.
Nicky also regularly posts pictures and video from the
club’s past on Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram – another way she’s keeping
members engaged till they can get back on the water.
Dave, Nicky’s husband, heads up the Sailability group, which
has been running a series of Zoom sessions for volunteers on Wednesday
afternoons, covering topics that include disability awareness, blind sailing, dementia,
deaf sailing, mental health, autism, racing, sail trim and more. Club members
and sailors have also been welcomed to these sessions.
Volunteers have made sure that everyone is engaged, whatever
their abilities, says Dave: “To start the process off we did a picture
message from our volunteers that showed them all at home holding decorated
word pictures that formed an uplifting message.
“Then, for those who come with school groups, special need
groups, the Forget Me Not group and individuals, we sent The
Social Story – simple text and photos to help them make sense of
what’s going on.
“The more able sailors and volunteers were messaged with
links to video and scenarios about racing, as well as links to the RYA
resources and webinars. We also sent out some boat pictures for colouring in,
and details of a colouring competition, for anyone to enter, with the entries
being posted on the club’s Facebook pages. And we made sure everyone knew about
the ten-event series and the art/photo competition that the Hansa Class is
“Personally, I’ve never spoken to so many of the sailors at
the club, and not always about sailing! A
lot of what we’re doing in lockdown is also potential activity for the winter
in the future.”
Giving back to the club, and each other
Clearly, the WSC members want to be engaged and they’re
looking at how they can help by giving back to their club while they can’t do
their day jobs. One has volunteered to cut the grass, benefiting his own mental
health as well as maintaining club grounds, and others have pedalled their
bikes or walked around the outside of the compound checking club security while
taking their daily exercise around the lake.
And they’re helping each other too. “Right at the
beginning,” says Tony, “we put out a communication reminding everyone that
we’ve got a lot of skillsets amongst our members - doctors, nurses, lawyers,
engineers etc – and suggesting that we should all speak to each other if we
need advice and utilise the skills around us. People have taken advantage of
this, with projects that they need help with during lockdown. As a result, people
aren’t jumping up and down demanding membership value or rebates – they’re keen
and committed to keeping the club going.”
Following the initial easing of the lockdown on 13 May,
Tony, who has a background in health and safety, and his “cracking team” are
now working on how to open the club safely, though it will be some months at
least before the clubhouse and the Sailability group can be operational once
more. In the meantime, he is clear that communication is key: “We tell people
what we’re doing, what we’re trying and what they can get involved in, and they’re
all happy to be a part of this. In fact, one ex-member even rejoined during
lockdown – he still wants to be part of the club, and knows we’ll keep people
Remarkably, even a new 20+ member remote-control yacht
sailing section that has only existed at Whitefriars since January, and
therefore hasn’t been able to sail yet, is joining in with activities online.
“We’ve not even met them all yet, but we’ve raced against them online!” he
laughs. “There’ll be beers to be had when this is over!”