Well this year has certainly been a year like no other, and definitely not the year we all imagined when the Sailability community gathered at Wyboston Lakes, Bedfordshire for the annual conference last February.
Before Covid-19 hit we were in a strong place and everything was looking positive. Sport England data was showing a steady growth of regular activity amongst disabled adults, regular participation across the Sailability programme was increasing and boating was reducing levels of inactivity. All great stuff. Then the pandemic took hold. With the result that we have only seen limited activity this year and unfortunately this has set us back.
The future is uncertain as there still remains the possibility of regional lockdowns, which will perhaps replace the current national one. However, with the recent positive news that a vaccine may be ready soon, there is a glimmer of hope that we may get back on the water sooner than we anticipate.
Same storm, different boat
We can’t rebuild regular participation without addressing the impact of Covid-19. Disabled people and people with long term health conditions have been impacted hard, with many finding it harder to go outside, access the essentials, and may endure an even greater financial impact.
The pandemic has also created new barriers to being active. Many disabled people are worried and confused about the impact of the virus and continue to self-isolate for longer, whether formally or self-imposed.
Sport England’s Active Lives Adult Survey reports that levels of activity during the pandemic for adults with disabilities and long-term health condition adults is just 47%, compared to 67% for those with no disabilities or long-term conditions.
Boating continues to have important benefits and I know that it is essential that we continue to raise awareness of what is possible, despite Covid-19. It is vital that we listen to disabled people as they share their experiences of the pandemic and feelings that this brings.
As part of this please do read this new article here about the direct impact Covid-19 has had on Sailability members and why it is so important that we continue to strive and overcome barriers of returning to activity – which means so much more than simply a sail in a boat.
Although it was hard for Sailability activity to restart once restrictions eased over the summer, there has been some great success stories from Sailability venues getting members back on the water.
You can read about some of the innovative ways Sailability venues achieved this in this article here.
However, not everyone has had the same opportunity to get back on the water. I know that many disabled people continued to self-isolate after the initial lockdown ended for various reasons. It has also been easier for people who have the support of family members or carers, or those who can be independent on the water. I know that many venues are looking at putting training in place over the winter to help with this.
The challenge remains
that the virus continues to impact the country at different rates. I am also conscious
that there is an uneven geographic spread of Sailability venues across the
country. However, many of the challenges we face are similar wherever your
Sailability venue is on the map and there is no barrier to us continuing to learn
from each other, share our innovative methods and ultimately help enable
boating activity re-start for as many disabled people as possible.
Covid-19 makes it harder than ever
The economic impact of Covid-19 is significant for so many sectors and has certainly impacted Boating and Sailability venues too. The consequences will be with us for a while and I urge all venues to investigate if you can take advantage of the emergency funding available from Sport England: ‘return to play’ funds.
If you are a decision maker in a club or centre I know that it has been relentless. I know you have been busy constantly assessing risk, reviewing what is possible, and coming up with new ways of working. The ever-changing guidance and advice from all corners can also be exhausting but I hope that the information that we have provided has been helpful.
As a reminder, the RYA Covid-19 Hub is constantly being up-dated as and when there is new guidance and restrictions.
What clubs and centres have managed to do - on and off the water is amazing - and I sincerely thank you for all the effort so many people have put in.
But you don’t need me to tell you what a difference Sailability makes to people’s lives – watch this video and hear direct from those you have helped this year.
People, particularly volunteers, are the backbone of Sailability and are key to supporting disabled people to lead active lives on the water. Sport England insight suggests there is a gradual decline in people giving their time for sport and activity. We already know that many Sailability groups are at capacity and we can't ask the same people to do more and more. Many may be cautious about returning to volunteering during the pandemic, whilst others are keen to get involved again when they can.
As we navigate the winter, we will help you plan for a return to boating, to re-skill and re-assure volunteers, to gain the funding you need and to overcome the Covid-19 barriers.
A first step is to attend the upcoming RYA Affiliated Clubs Conference which takes place on Saturday 21 November – it’s completely FREE – you just need to book a ticket in advance.
One of the workshops taking place is all about how to recruit new volunteers, as well as successfully manage them. I highly recommend that you take part – remember, even if you can’t attend on the day, your ticket will still allow you to catch up later as all the information will be recorded for you to watch at your leisure.
We can’t rebuild Sailability on our own
Partners will help us to really understand and reach disabled people again, but we do need to know the reality of the world they are operating in.
Covid-19 has meant schools, disability organisations and community groups have faced increased demand for their services, new barriers to delivering support and many have less budget to spend too. And even before Covid-19, many were finding it harder to choose water sports and outdoor activity as part of what they could offer.
The positive news is that organisations are beginning to re-engage and start discussions about activity for next year. We just need to reassure them that Sailability can deliver in the current climate.
There are some great local partnerships, but we need your help to create a map of the links between Sailability venues and community organisations. Please do get in touch with me joff.McGill@rya.org.uk or your local DDO if you feel you can help with this.
Partnerships take genuine collaboration and can have a long lead time before any real impact on participation levels, but it is something we will continue to invest our time in.
Remember, as well as the Affiliated Clubs Conference on Saturday 21 November there is also the Sailability conference on 13 February 2021. We are working on creating a wealth of useful content and if there is anything that you would like to be included in particular do let me know, it will be great to see you there.
Do stay in touch and let us know the support you need in these uncertain times
Look after each other,