How it all Started…
Every time I am at Wealden Sailability, I am so pleased that I decided to research the opportunity back around 2006. Purely by chance, I was on a plane to Minorca with my family to have a holiday at ‘Minorca Sailing’ and across the aisle I started chatting to a couple about their lives and they were telling me about the establishment of Rutland Sailability, the pioneers of Sailability in the UK. His name was Len Brereton and he was the Chairman of the group which established the centre. We became great friends and the more we talked, the more attractive the idea of trying to set up a small unit in the Sevenoaks area.
My background was big boat off-shore sailing but when my daughters were around 9 years old, my wife Fay and I decided to introduce them to the sport. Little did I know then how life would change. The girls took various courses with Paul Rayner at Bough Beech and when later I became the Club Commodore and I worked closely with Paul, who was the Training Principal, in developing the training section there.
Coincidently, I then received simultaneous calls from both RYA Sailability and KCC asking if I would consider establishing a new Sailability Centre at Bough Beech. Further discussions took place with Len Brereton and we were invited to Rutland Sailability for a day to literally test out the water. Their facilities are brilliant and our time there made a huge impression on me. Following further research, it was quite clear that a Sailability centre at Bough Beech would be a massive benefit and I started to put together some basic plans.
What appears in theory to be a good idea isn’t always the same in practice so I decided to organise two test sessions in the summer of 2007 to see if it would work. The problem was that we had no boats so I contacted a number of Sailability centres and asked if I could borrow some Access 303s for the days. They were very willing so I drove off to collect them and tow them back. The trials proved so successful that the decision was made to try and commence operations the following year – 2008.
Paul Rayner was already on board and we asked Bob MacCormick to join us and this team continued for several years. The problem was that we had no money and no boats. Just a bunch of guys with a lot of enthusiasm but members of the Club came along with their own boats plus a few Club boats and we started. Clearly we needed to raise funds quickly but this is a problem when we had no credentials. However we fought through and managed to attract some funds and put together an application for Lottery funding which was successful.
Gradually we started to build the fleet and our first boats were the Laser Stratos Keels. We decided three would be required and on that basis secured a good deal. There was one big problem with this – when I ordered them, we only had finance for one so it was all a big gamble. Fortunately more funds were secured and we were able to honour the deal.
In fact we manage to acquire 6 boats in our very first year and the fleet started to build.
Over the next 3 years, the management team grew and during that time David Mckee had joined us as a volunteer. He was then persuaded to become a trustee and later to succeed me as Chairman. All seem to be going well but we then hit a huge snag. Bough Beech management were not enthusiastic about our expansion plans and the facilities there were also limiting. Our future was in severe doubt.
In the past I had worked closely with local Clubs as Chairman of the Weald group of sailing clubs’ and decided to contact Chipstead to see if they would provide home for us. They were brilliant. Within hours of calling, they agreed in principle and confirmed a few days later. Consequently in June 2011 we collected all our boats and equipment and transported them to Chipstead. Not a day’s sailing was missed.
Since then and a change of name, we have experienced enormous growth in sailors and volunteers and acquired a fleet of 26 boats . Wealden is one of the largest Sailability centres in the World and in 2015 we won the Queen’s Award for Volunteering which is equivalent to a corporate MBE. A very proud moment.
Over the early years, many people were instrumental in our operation and growth. In particular, I would like to thank Paul Rayner and Bob MacCormick, the founding trustees, without whom none of this would have been possible, also Bruce Hebbert, Brian McCormick, one of our first volunteers who sadly has since died, Ron Whitmey, and to David Mckee for bravely taking over the helm and doing such a brilliant job. Also to all the trustees who over the years who have been responsible for developing the Charity into the highly successful organisation it is today and, of course, to all our volunteers.
Particular thanks must go to Chipstead Sailing Club which has been so cooperative at every stage and continues to be so.
Founder and Honorary President
Testimonials from Sailors
Bob Fisher’s Testimonial – May 2022
About 6 or 7 years ago I was chairman of the Bromley Parkinson’s Society. From day one I had set out to try to offer different activities to the members. I remember making a presentation to newly diagnosed patients during a two day seminar at Beckenham Hospital. These seminars were very educational to people with Parkinson’s offering support and assistance wherever it could be provided. When it was my turn to speak, I decided to add a little humour by stating that I really didn’t want to talk about Bowels and much preferred Bowls. At least a few people smiled and it certainly broke the ice. A few days after one of my presentations I was contacted by Anne Frewer who herself had been deeply involved in charitable organisations. She asked if she could make a presentation on sailing at our next meeting. She came along and I subsequently agreed to come along to Wealden Sailability at Chipstead to test the water.
I have always loved sport, football, cricket golf etc. but I guess I had always regarded
Sailing as a bit of an elitist, expensive sport. My first day was free and I was taken out on a Martin, a two seater boat, by one of the volunteers. All the equipment was freely available and the helpers couldn’t have been friendlier. I have to say I really enjoyed myself and was immediately hooked.
After I had undergone a few hours training, my instructor declared me a ‘captain’ and stepped off my vessel onto a safety boat leaving me in complete control. I have to admit to being a little nervous and no doubt made a number of errors. These boats are totally unsinkable (where did I hear that before) and despite my best efforts will not capsize. From that day onwards I have had tremendous fun at Sailability. The volunteers are very well trained and, as well as ensuring everyone is safe, they also add great banter which makes things even more enjoyable. I personally regard many of the volunteers, as well as other clients, as good friends.
Originally it was £5 for a whole days sailing during the season, which was tremendous value, but then horror upon horror, they announced they would be reviewing their pricing. I would happily have paid much more than the current fees for my weekly blast around the lake, but I am aware that this might discourage other people. Of course Sailability, who never fail to amaze me, reduced their pricing to £3. Incredible value considering the many boats they provide and have to maintain, in addition to the brilliant volunteers.
As well as having very well trained volunteers ensuring that everyone is safe, Chipstead lake is also patrolled on a very regular basis by Spitfire. Sitting in a small sailing boat looking up and seeing a Spitfire overhead is about as good as it gets!
To anyone who is a little nervous, perhaps lonely, I would encourage you to give sailing and Wealden Sailability a try. I have seen nervous people climb out of boats with beaming smiles on their faces.
PETER WAGNER – Sailor
Peter’s updated testimonial 2022
Hi, my name is Peter Wagner, I have been sailing with Wealden Sailability for 13 years, as I am one of their original clients. I still remember to this very day my first outing on Bough Beech reservoir with Meg Warren, who was at the time, one of their newest volunteers. At the time, I was slightly concerned at first, as sailing was out of my comfort zone, but within the space of a few weeks, Brian Stanley and Bob McCormick said to me “Right Peter.. It’s time for you to go solo!” At the time, I was a bit apprehensive since I can’t swim! However, the volunteers were very welcoming, and reassured me that the boats are extremely stable, and cannot capsize. Since then, I have never looked back, competing in competitive club racing, trying out different classes of dinghies, and best of all the banter we all have with the volunteers and clients after each race! So if you’re looking to try something new, why not come and sail with Wealden Sailability!
Peter’s original testimonial
My name is Peter Wagner. I am nineteen years old and have cerebral palsy which affects my fine and gross motor skills. I am unable to walk unaided and use a wheelchair to get around. I am currently an undergraduate student of Brighton University, studying for a Degree in computer games development and have helped in the production of this website for Wealden Sailability.
In 2009 my parents having spoken to Brian Stanley of Wealden Sailability, asked me if I would like to learn how to sail. I must admit that to begin with, I thought that I would not be able to sail a boat due to my disability, but I was prepared to give it a go.
When my father and I arrived at Sailability for the fist time in April 2009, we were met by Brian Stanley and Bob McCormick, two great people who have put a lot of time and effort into running Sailability. They introduced us to all the other instructors and volunteers as well as the group from Pepenbury. Everyone was very friendly and I started to relax and look forward to the opportunity of getting onto the water.
On my first day as I had never been in a sailing dinghy before, I went out on the water in an Access 303 with an instructor called Meg. She is a great character with a great deal of sailing experience and a marvellous sense of humour. I had a great time and when we came in for lunch had learnt a considerable amount about how a boat sails. We went out again after lunch and by the end of the day I was very keen to take up sailing as a hobby.
Over the next three weeks I went out on the water with a number of the other instructors all of whom were keen to pass on their knowledge and experience. On my fifth visit to Sailability I was allowed to sail solo in an Access. I was thrilled and felt perfectly safe as the safety boat was close by just in case I needed some help.
“P” – Sailor
For me, sailing has been an amazing experience and I would recommend to anyone to participate whether it is for therapeutic purpose or just for fun. I have gained many skills from doing sailing, the obvious one learning the ropes and being able to sail a boat, but I have also been able to improve my confidence when meeting new people. I’ve met some very inspirational people whilst doing sailing, who have taught me some valuable life lessons. Another thing that I’ve found beneficial whilst taking part in sailing is team building with the staff and patients at Cygnet. We have had to learn to trust each other and sailing is just a nice, fun thing to do together.
I am extremely grateful to the volunteers at the sailing club that enable so many people to take part in a sport which is great fun and has so many positives. I would urge anyone to use the sailing club to their full advantage as you will find it very rewarding and fulfilling to do.
P, age 17.
Cygnet Hospital Godden Green
Michael – Sailor
Sailing was fun, challenging and gave me a positive outlook during a difficult time. I found something I could enjoy as a new hobby. It was a way of making new friends and enjoying fresh air. I enjoyed the experience and it was one of the best things I’ve done.
Cygnet Hospital Godden Green
Nash College – Sailors
Three Cheers for Wealden Sailability
Nash College offer a range of courses for young adults 19 – 23 years and a new day course for adult 23 years and beyond. Our College were very excited 2 years ago when we discovered Wealden Sailing for the disabled.
We have just completed our second sailing season with a wide variety of students attending; from students with Profound and Multiple Learning Difficulties to Students with Autism.
Three groups of students have attended for the whole year and showed progress in many areas of learning. Wealden Sailability also very kindly supported a group of new students from Nash in an additional sailing event, our Learner Voice Day, a taster day for students who have never sailed before and needed a taster to see if they would like this to be an activity that may be available to them on their College timetable.
Wow! what a successful day we had. The sun was shining the wind was ideal making sailing conditions perfect. The volunteers at Wealden Sailability were amazing and really pushed the boat out every time!!!
There were a total of thirteen students attending on the day, three sailed in the morning then exchanged with another three students in the afternoon. All day students managed to fit in two sailing sessions in the day. All students spent time waiting for their turn in a positive and appropriate manner as they shared the centre with other community users.
Some students chose to relax and enjoy the sensory experience and environment by a beautiful lake in a countryside setting with friends.
Other students sailed in a Martin boat with a sailing instructor; all held their heads up high and made the most of the wind in their hair and the breeze on their faces loving every minute. Some sailed a two-seater access boat with a sailing instructor, at times involved in steering the boat via a joystick and pulling ropes to help control the sails, clearly loved every minute wanting ‘more’.
The final group of students shared a Stratos boat with a 1-1 support worker and two sailing instructors. They joined in with handling sailing equipment, moving within the small area of the boat to sail, and thrived on the exciting yet calm surrounding, sitting into the boat and seated comfortably on a bean bag. They reaped the whole sailing experience with the sun on their face, the wind in their hair, and the calm sensation of bubbling rushing water passing by; a whole sensory delight.
Nash College would like to thank the volunteers at Wealden Sailability for their dedicated time, recognition of individual student needs and sensitivity to student needs.
The College and students look forward to another exciting sailing season on our return to college in September.
Testimonials from Volunteers
Peter Ashwell’s Testimonial – May 2022
I started as a volunteer for WS on the first day it moved from Bough Beech to Chipstead Sailing Club over a decade ago. I have enjoyed every single day that I have worked with other volunteers to enable all the sailors who come down to enjoy their time by or on the water together with their families and carers. They are very grateful for WS’s efforts and we are grateful that they clearly value and enjoy the experience. I have also been impressed by the welcome and openness of the Trustees and I think they manage every aspect of the charity’s activities carefully and professionally. WS is a win:win arrangement for volunteers and sailors/carers.
BRIAN McCORMICK – Volunteer
I Joined Wealden Sailability at the outset some three seasons ago now. Since then I have seen it grow from strength to strength now owning its own specially adapted boats for the disabled, a specially made pontoon extension and a crane/hoist to get wheel chair customers in and out of the boats.
Since the beginning, the number of helpers have increased considerably. It has been bit by bit but what has happened is, the volunteers have come to really enjoy their Tuesday at the club and have come to realise what fantastic difference we make to the lives of the disabled/disadvantaged and indeed have built a wonderful rapport with them.
Not only have we built this rapport with our customers, but we are now enjoying a fantastic friendship and camaraderie amongst ourselves and I can honestly say, I really feel I have made some wonderful friends.
This may well sound a bit cheesy but when the season finishes we all feel as if a little bit of us had died.
I know I speak for everyone when I say, “can’t wait for the forthcoming season.”
If when you read this and feel you would like to help make a difference, do come along and give us a look, remember most of you enjoy good fortune and most importantly good health; there are many out there who are not as fortunate. We do make a difference, so give it a go.
JIM McEWEN – Volunteer
I have really enjoyed being a sailing instructor with Sailability. It is very satisfying to welcome new people to a completely new and inspiring environment for them of wind and waves and to see what enormous enjoyment they get from being on the water with the opportunity to learn new skills alongside others. Sailing can be totally mind absorbing enabling you to forget your landbased life and relax during a day out on a lovely stretch of water.
PETER COULCHER – Volunteer
I have been a volunteer with Sail- a- bility for over a year, and cannot think of a better way of spending a Tuesday. The pleasure that our clients get from coming is fantastic and this is portrayed by the smiles on their faces. It is amazing to see some of them sail solo in only a few weeks. The volunteers are a great bunch of enthusiastic like minded people who want to share the joys and fun of sailing with anyone.
Testimonials from Others
ROGER GIBSON (CEO PEPENBURY) please note: Pepenbury is now known as Aspens
Promoting active lives for people with learning disabilities is central to the work of Pepenbury. Our involvement with Sailability has been exhilarating for many of the people we support, providing experiences beyond their dreams and opening up new horizons for the future. It will continue to be a firm favourite for a long time to come. Many thanks to Wealden Sailability for all they do.
Roger Gibson, CEO, Pepenbury.
PAUL PANTON (KENT DISABILITY SPORT DEVELOPMENT OFFICER)
Kent Sport Leisure and Olympics Service have been delighted to work with Wealden Sailability. We have seen the growth of the project since early development and the outstanding dedication of its volunteers to provide opportunities for people of all abilities to experience and take up the sport of Sailing.
The project is one of the County’s leading providers for disabled people and continues to go from strength to strength, providing a model of good practice for others to follow.
Paul Panton, Kent Disability Sport Development Officer.
ALEX KING – Deputy Leader, Kent County Council.
Wealden Sailability is very much about people who enjoy the pleasure and excitement of sailing, devoting energy and effort to give disabled people the opportunity to enjoy the water which they would not be able to do without this excellent facility. The energy and effort that goes into making this a real experience deserves serious recognition and support.
Alex King, Deputy Leader, Kent County Council.
David Heard – Chief Executive, Sportability
Sportability works with many Sailability groups around the country and we always find a very warm welcome and a supportive approach for our people. Wealden Sailability is no exception to that. Bob Mac Cormick and “his crew” have now welcomed Sportability groups on two occasions and we are planning more through the summer. Their enthusiasm and willingness to get even the most tentative rookie out and enjoying this sport, not only makes for a fun event but actually changes lives!
Under the guidance of the Wealden volunteers we regularly see people ‘graduate’ from accompanied instruction to solo sailing in the course of a day. The self-confidence, sense of achievement, the sheer joy that this brings cannot be underestimated.
This chimes exactly with our ethos of ‘taking the dis out of disability’.
David Heard, Chief Executive, Sportability
Richard Oldfield – Vice Lord Lieutenant of Kent.
(Presented Queens Award for Voluntary Services – 17th Sept 2015)
It was a great pleasure to come to give the Award. I was so impressed by everything you do at Chipstead and enjoyed the morning immensely – it was so clear that all there enjoy themselves.
Douglas Horner – Deputy Lieutenant of Kent
(Queens Award for Voluntary Services – 17th Sept 2015)
The Award has been earned by you, your volunteer team, the clients and their carers. What was splendidly clear from the day was the whole team’s spirit. The Award was absolutely justified. Well done!
I think that this was quite the best Award occasion, and well done for that, too.