The volunteers who help us are just brilliant
I enjoy coming here and I'll keep coming for as long as I can"
Whitefriars Sailing Club at the Cotswold Water Park welcomes the Forget Me Not group from Swindon. They encourage people with dementia to get out on the water and enjoy sailing as part of the Wiltshire club's Sailability programme, which enables people to lead more active lives and be part of their community.
‘We try to understand each person, and either get them sailing independently or get them with a buddy just going out and enjoying it on a therapeutic basis,’ says David Durston, Principal of Sailability at the club.
‘Whatever your age or sailing ability – diehard racer, newcomer to sailing or you simply love mucking about on the water – we’re keen to make sailing fun and accessible for all.’
Boats at Whitefriars have special adaptations, such as more supportive seating that helps keep the sailor in the centre of the craft. They are also very stable, and some cannot capsize at all. Some can be worked electrically for people who wouldn’t be able to manage ropes, while others can be operated by blowing and sucking air through special controls.
A large pontoon has been purpose-built to be accessible and stable for wheelchairs and people with walking difficulties. Secure hoists are also available on both the pontoon and the shore.
Harry Davis, who is in his early 60s and living with dementia, has been sailing with the Forget Me Not group for more than three years.
‘I like coming sailing because it’s relaxing to be able to get out on the water,’ says Harry. ‘It’s a little bit of a challenge trying to remember what ropes to pull and which way to turn, but it’s not strenuous, there’s no hassle. I enjoy coming here and I’ll keep coming for as long as I can.’
Experienced volunteers are on standby in safety boats throughout. Group members can also sail with a volunteer until they get a feel for the wind and the broad principles of sailing.
Nick, a volunteer, and Forget Me Not attendee, Derek, used to work together in Swindon and have now been reunited on the water.
‘It’s good fun and I get a lot of pleasure helping these guys and ladies, and it helps me as well,’ says Nick. ‘It’s very rewarding, and Derek enjoys the quiet when we’re out sailing.’
Once a sailor is more confident, they can begin to sail independently or with others. They may also work towards special certification, learn how to race or even become an instructor themselves.
Forget Me Not member Christine, who also has dementia, hadn’t ever sailed prior to joining the group.
‘I’ve never been a person who sits around – it’s great to try things you’ve never tried before as it keeps you thinking,’ she says. ‘I enjoy everything about sailing, especially when the sun’s shining.’
She particularly appreciates the supportive side of the sessions.
‘The volunteers who help us are just brilliant,’ she says. ‘Everyone at the sailing club is so kind and friendly and everyone helps one another, which makes it something that you really appreciate and enjoy.’
(Article produced in collaboration with the Alzheimers Society)
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