“This has really brought Morgan out of his comfort zone and he has smashed it.”

Those are the words of Nikki Cadman, a Senior Support Worker/Safeguarding Champion at NAViGO, a not for profit social enterprise that runs all local mental health and associated services in NE Lincolnshire. Since partnering with Covenham Sailability in 2018, the record of NAViGO service users 'smashing it' is impressive. 

For some getting a job has become a possibility, others have already started work or gained qualifications, one has been on his first ever holiday, one now has the confidence to learn to drive, another has moved out of his mum’s and into his own accommodation. Two members have even met and fallen in love.

Just being able start and maintain conversations or sleeping properly are equal triumphs, while for others the 'now', and having a place they can help, meet new people and feel calm and relaxed, is just as valuable.

Launching Navigate

NAViGO first approached Covenham about delivering training to people living with a range of mental health issues, including PTSD, depression and schizophrenia, after hearing about Sailability through the NE Lincolnshire Disability Forum. 

These were individuals who often led shambolic lives with little or no structure. Some had physical challenges to overcome too, including with hand dexterity, limited vision, size and stroke-related short term memory issues. Because of the range of needs, Covenham established the new ‘Navigate’ project for NAViGO.

The eight-strong group spent February and March 2019 getting to know the boats and doing maintenance. Most importantly that time was about building trust, rapport and mutual respect between the group and volunteers before going sailing. It was the bedrock for what's followed.

Judy Templeman, Navigate project lead, explains: "When the idea was first suggested we talked to our Sailability volunteers, who agreed to put on a new session on Mondays. For anyone, trying something new can be stressful, and that’s heightened for people with low confidence and living with mental health issues.

"This way they wouldn’t be overwhelmed with a new environment, faces, activities or lots of noise. It was about minimising the impact of other factors to give them the best experience and opportunity to succeed. They have now formed a self-supporting group; when they first started coming they didn’t know each other." 

The sessions started out in Covenham's two Drascombs, so the group were with their peers. There were three volunteers in each boat, who got the group involved doing the tiller, main and jib. As they got their confidence up, a volunteer was taken out so that they had more to do themselves in the boat. Those could cope were then moved into Wayfarers and those whose mobility required support into Hansa 303s.

Time is of the essence

But anyone can learn the practicalities of sailing a boat. What made the real difference with Navigate? For Judy the answer to that question is simple...

"The secret is to show them what’s possible and then let them set the timescale and pace. Let them suss out what’s right for them. You can’t pressure or push anyone too much. If someone has a physical issue you give them time, and it’s the same for mental health. But time is the one commodity no one seems to have anymore. 

"If you look around any room there will be someone coping with stress, family illness, bereavement, depression, everybody is dealing with something. Mental health is like a broken leg. Sometimes it’s as simple as showing tolerance, compassion and a bit of patience. That magic ingredient of time. It’s not rocket science."

This is why only eight individuals are part of Navigate as if there were too many Covenham couldn’t give them the time they all need. Eating together has also been key.

The group used to be given a packed lunch. But Covenham and NAViGO came to an agreement that what they paid for the lunches the club would make a small meal. They sit around a big, round table, eating, chatting and debriefing. It broke down barriers, as the group saw Covenham's volunteers as people not as instructors, and the volunteers got to know the group as individuals, not clients.

One service user, Alison, said: “There are many positives I have gained, including a new relationship with another member. I am so happy and in love. This has helped me greatly with my social skills and confidence in being able to speak to new people as I struggled with anxiety in a big way with meeting new people.”

Adding value

In April 2019, Covenham received an RYA Foundation grant to support the Navigate project. The grant allowed them to upskill volunteers in powerboat and safety boat skills, so they have more skilled helpers and can increase the training support to 1:1 or 2:1 to ensure the more vulnerable trainees feel fully supported and can maximise their chances of progress and success.

Judy revealed the group has developed huge trust in the volunteers, including one admitting he cannot read or write. And success for the group goes beyond the water. They can now choose their personal protective equipment with confidence, prepare for the conditions on the day and work as a cohesive team.

Two have also become very useful off-the-water helpers, confident in helping with rigging, launching and maintenance, as well as in the kitchen preparing meals and teas and coffees for everyone, and even taking on admin-based roles to help with paperwork. These two have real challenges to meet to go sailing. Making sure they know they are just as valued, and their skill development is just as big an achievement, is vital. 

What's next?

Due to Navigate’s success, demand is now high. Of the eight, three have achieved Powerboat Level 2, with no endorsements, with two of those working towards RYA Start Sailing Level 2. Two have achieved Powerability silver and three Sailability silver.

As the confidence and skills of the group grows, so the project becomes cyclical. Those with powerboat qualifications can support with safety cover, while the aim is for others to join in with full Covenham SC club activities so they can keep sailing and improving. New people can then start coming on Mondays.

Another service user, Dene, said: "Group working is not something I was used to but with the help of the volunteers I can now do this comfortably. Now I feel there is a chance I might gain employment in the future, definitely something I didn’t expect.”

Nikki concludes: “Navigate has been able to provide confidence-building, structure, routine and lessen anxiety as well as overcoming fears and learning new skills."

Smashing it indeed.