They join some 44 volunteers who are being celebrated across the UK for their exceptional dedication in boating. Traditionally taking place at an awards ceremony in London, the RYA Volunteer Awards recognise and say ‘thank you’ to volunteers who have made an outstanding contribution to the sport, with recipients nominated by their sailing clubs, class associations and members of the boating community.

The RYA Volunteer Awards are divided into four categories: RYA Awards, RYA Community Awards, The Francis Elkin Award and, new for 2020, the RYA Honor Preston Award. This year, due to the ongoing pandemic, some winners will be presented with their awards at small presentations held at their sailing venues whilst others receive them from the safety of their homes.

In the East Region, they include:

Jim McNaughten – RYA National Award (West Mersea Yacht Club, RYA East Region)

Leslie Downing – Francis Elkin Award (Woolverstone Project)

Sally Self - Lifetime Commitment Award (Norfolk Broads Yacht Club)

Sheena Berney - Outstanding Contribution Award (Blackwater Sailing Club)

Paul Johnson - Lifetime Commitment Award (Rickmansworth Sailing Club).

Leslie Downing was nominated for the Francis Elkin Award and selected as a winner by the RYA Honours and Awards Panel. Each year, the Award is presented in recognition of a significant contribution in time, effort and personal endeavour to enable people with disabilities to become involved in sailing. Leslie has made a remarkable contribution to the Woolverstone Project for over 15 years and is described as the ‘lynchpin holding everything together’. In this time she’s had many roles including Senior Instructor, Trustee, DBS Officer, buddy sailor, organiser and general volunteer as well as being an ‘invaluable mentor and friend to everyone at the club’.

Leslie said of the Award: “I felt of course very honoured to be awarded the Francis Elkin Award although rather embarrassed- this I feel I share with all the Woolverstone Project Volunteers, many of whom deserve it more than myself. I have always had a passion for sailing from a young age and always look forward to sailing with the Project- as we all do- my other big interest- working with disabled persons. I feel we are like a big family- the sailors, their Carers and all the volunteers, and it is so good to share my huge interest with all these people and see the sailors happiness in getting out on the water and developing their skills. We all miss this enormously with the Covid restrictions, but just have to be patient. A big thank you to all who have contributed to my gaining this award.”

As an active participant of the Management, Racing and Membership Committees, Sally Self has committed her time, energy and expertise to Race Management at Norfolk Broads Yacht Club and held the roles of Timekeeper and Senior Timekeeper for over 20 years until her recent retirement. Her knowledge and skills have been exemplary and her experience has been drawn upon by many Race Officers, the Club benefitting hugely from her efforts. She has also been a lead advocate in efforts to increase membership, co-ordinating and hosting several successful initiatives.

Sally said of the Award: “I am extremely touched that my name was put forward and am delighted to receive this award from the RYA. I have spent a wonderful thirty-five years working alongside a dedicated group of volunteers who have made our Club, and the sport of sailing, so enjoyable”.

Meanwhile, Jim McNaughten is one of the RYA’s earliest appointed RYA Yachtmaster™ examiners who, over the years, has examined hundreds of Yachtmasters. He is also one of the longest serving RYA Instructors, continuing to teach theory courses at the age of 89, and having been West Mersea Yacht Club’s Training Centre Principal since the 1970s. This is made even more remarkable by the fact that this year marks the 50th anniversary of the RYA’s training schemes and Jim has been involved since the very beginning. His enthusiasm and experience is inspirational to many, and his relaxed, informative, anecdotal style has benefited generations of sailors – drawing on his many experiences! In the winter of 2019/20, Jim had 12 students in his theory class – an exceptional number by today’s standards.

Jim said of the Award: “I feel honoured to be in receipt of an RYA Volunteer Award but of course I could not have done anything without my team of instructors who are of course also volunteers.”

Both Sheena Berney and Paul Johnson have also been recognised for their contributions to their respective Clubs – Blackwater Sailing Club and Rickmansworth Sailing Club.

Sarah Treseder, RYA Chief Executive, said: “This year more than ever before we have seen our club volunteers come together and work tirelessly to ensure members can continue to sail. 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 through this award”.

Read all about each winner or find more information about the RYA Volunteer Awards.