Sailing provides confidence building, structure, and routine. It lessens anxiety and the group learn new skills.
In 2018 NAViGO approached Covenham about delivering training to people living with a range of mental health issues, including PTSD, depression and schizophrenia. They heard about Sailability through the NE Lincolnshire Disability Forum, and after bringing two service users to a taster day were immediately convinced of its benefit.
These were people familiar with the ships and docks of Grimsby, but who had no idea they could go dinghy sailing or believe they could go on the water. Because of their range of needs, Covenham established the new Monday ‘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.
Lives have been changed. For some employment has become tangible having not been a possibility 12 months earlier, others have already started jobs 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.
Because of their mental health conditions, these were people who often led shambolic lives with little or no structure. For example, James lived with his mum who worked full time. So he slept during the day, played for hours on his console through the night and had little life skills because he didn’t want to learn. High anxiety levels, shyness, depression and vulnerability were common across the group.
There were physical challenges to overcome too, including with hand dexterity, limited vision, size - one client is 6ft 8in, which continues to have a significant impact on his confidence - and stroke-related short term memory issues.
Speak to Judy Templeman, Covenham Sailability’s ‘Navigate’ project lead, and one phrase comes up repeatedly – “It’s not rocket science.”
When the idea was first suggested we talked to our 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 at all.
The sessions started out in our 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.
The secret is to show what’s possible and then let people set the timescale and pace themselves. 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. Covenham only work with eight individuals in ‘Navigate’.
The group used to be given a packed lunch for the session. But after a morning sailing it’s nicer to have something hot and more substantial so we came to an agreement that with what they paid for the lunches we would make a small meal. We started sitting around a big, round table and eating together, just having a chat and debriefing. That broke down barriers and nervousness, and the group started seeing us as people not as instructors. We got to know them as people, not clients.
Success is not is just on-water activities. People can now choose their personal protective equipment with confidence, prepare for the conditions on the day and work as a cohesive team. Of the eight, three have achieved PB2 with two of those working towards RYA Start Sailing Level 2, two have achieved Powerability silver and three Sailability silver, while two have become very useful off-the-water helpers. These two are 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. But they have real challenges to meet to go sailing so making sure they know they are just as valued and their skill development is just as big an achievement is really important.
Our volunteers had already worked with people who have experienced severe trauma and loss through Sailability in the past. The RYA Foundation grant allowed us to upskill our volunteers in powerboat and safety boat skills so we have more skilled helpers. As a result we 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. The group has developed huge trust in the volunteers delivering the training, including one admitting he cannot read or write.
If you look around any room there will be someone coping with stress, family illness, bereavement, depression, something. You’ll either be the sort of person who will give them a few minutes or decide you don’t want to interfere or need someone else’s problems too. Mental health is like having a broken leg. Sometimes it’s as simple as showing tolerance, compassion and a bit of patience. That magic ingredient of time again. It’s not rocket science.
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