Junior membership at Midlands clubs has decreased over the last four years. This is why increasing junior club membership is a focus in our Regional Plan 2017-2021.

A strong junior base is key to ensuring the continued success of our clubs and centres. The kids of today become the instructors, volunteers and family members of the future. For that transition to be as seamless as possible, juniors and their families need to feel fully part of the club.

One club that's really focused on making this happen over the past two years is South Staffs SC. Richard Hodgkins chairs the club's Junior Committee. He explains why they have done what they have done, and what difference it's making.

Many clubs have one Junior Coordinator who gets a bit of ad hoc support, but South Staffs set up a Junior Committee. Why?

The juniors and families are the future of any club. Juniors were under the stewardship of now Vice Commodore, Tim Coleshaw, for many years, and because of his drive and passion the club was very successful in producing good young sailors.

But everything landed at Tim's door, which was an awful lot for one person to deal with. There weren't enough volunteers and little integration with the club. When Tim stepped down, instead of one person overseeing junior activity it was decided forming a committee would allow us to be a bit more strategic. 

How did you get the buy in for that?

Parents of juniors, who already had a connection with the club, drove it. Amongst these were instructors, Andy and Bev Hateley, who have been members for 20 years and who wanted to give something back with their own children now attending junior sessions, and Dave and Nicky Morgan, who also have two children in the juniors. My son and I only started sailing in 2015, but I want him to keep sailing and thought being on this Committee could help.

It was decided from the outset one person couldn't manage all tasks. So the water activities are normally organised by Bev and Andy, I complete the admin role with weekly newsletters, articles for the club's Good News Friday email, general paper work and I sit on the Sailing Committee, Nicky is our child protection officer and Dave is an active member of General Committee and always champions juniors activities. There are so many other families that do so much to help out now too.

Did you change the structure of the juniors?

We split junior training into two groups - beginners/intermediate group and race squad. Both groups share the ethos that each session should be fun, but the race squad is a little more challenging as it prepares juniors for club sailing.  All junior sessions are run with a Senior Instructor present and tie in to OnBoard. RYA OnBoard merchandise was used extensively at the club Open Day to promote junior sailing.

What new activities have been introduced to underpin this?

One of our main aims this year was to get juniors regularly sailing in main club racing. To aid this Sailing Committee introduced a junior start, approximately five minutes after the main start. All club members have really welcomed this.

One of the biggest achievements was the introduction of a new Junior/Pro race, where club members took juniors out racing in the main club race fleet. Over 15 juniors took part and our Commodore, James Croxford, who really championed this, presented winners with prizes. We would like this to become an annual event.

We also introduced themed Sunday training sessions to add fun for younger juniors not ready for race squad. These have included a Star Wars Day and Favourite Superhero Day!

How have you better integrated juniors and families into main club life?

At the start of this year, Dave and I were asked to represent the juniors on a strategic group looking at the club's five-year plan. We asked for juniors to be integrated into all club activities, including socials where appropriate. All the club activities this year have really focused on getting junior and families involved. 

The Junior/Pro was one example of this. Another was 15+ juniors and families attending the club's annual weekend in New Quay in Wales for only the second time - Tim organised a less formal evening meal so juniors could be part of the atmosphere in the clubhouse.

We entered a junior/adult team in the Southport 24hr Race and only between 3am-5am during the 24 hours was there no junior in the boat. There's also been a Junior Fun Weekend and a six-hour RNLI fundraising sailing marathon, which was followed by club racing and a social that all juniors attended.

How have you helped get non-sailing parents active in the club?

They can all have tasters and the opportunity to complete RYA learn to sail or Powerboat courses and numerous parents have now done RYA Level 1 and 2. All parents are also given a junior sailing planner, which has all club social dates on it, with the aim to get increased number of parents to come along.

We also set up a Parents Charter all parents have signed up to. This includes such things as child safety including wearing buoyancy aids, being available to assist juniors to launch and derig their boats and making sure juniors attend sessions promptly. We know not all parents are sailors so we have an onshore team, that run all the shoreside activities, who parents can also chat to for advice and support.

We're very clear we do not run a youth club and parents know their responsibilities when attending sessions.

What's been the impact of all this so far?

Up until the six week school holidays the average number of juniors taking part has been 18 over 18 sessions. In total over 50 juniors have tried sailing during the summer and there were two weeks with over 30 juniors taking to the water. In two years the Junior Committee has been going, massive progress has been made. 

The biggest benefit is a core of new members that have a real passion for the club and its ethos. There is a real buzz around the club with the juniors and every member appreciates the time and effort that goes into running all the activities. This wouldn't have been possible without James and Tim enthusiasm and drive. But the work is ongoing and we're at the start of that journey, not the end.