The 2023 RYA Volunteer Awards were held on Friday 10 November at One Great George Street, with 81 accolades given this year in recognition of the outstanding dedication and commitment made by volunteers of all ages and from all corners of the UK.
The awards were divided into categories highlighting the many and varied ways volunteers support participation and activity across the sailing and boating sector.
The Francis Elkin Award
Brian received the Francis Elkin Award, dedicated to the memory of a former RYA Council Chair and Sailability Trustee, which recognises exceptional individuals who have made significant efforts to enable people with disabilities to become involved in sailing.
Brian founded Wealden Sailability in 2008, which is now one of the largest Sailability organisations in the UK, offering sailing opportunities and training to people with disabilities. As the father of a daughter keen on sailing but who had developed a significant physical disability, he saw the positive impact that sailing had on her well-being and established a charity that offered the same opportunities to many more people.
He was central to the organisation and its fundraising, making generous personal contributions in both time and money. The charity expanded its fleet to 28 accessible craft and now has a pool of 70 volunteers, many having been involved for over ten years. The charity moved from Bough Beech Reservoir to Chipstead Lake in 2011 and Brian was the founding Chair of the Trustees, remaining a Trustee for many years before becoming Honorary President, a role he still holds today.
Wealden Sailability was granted the Queen’s Award for Voluntary Service in 2015 and named Sevenoaks District Council Charity of the Year in 2017. It operates twice a week from April to October with 30 to 50 client sailors each session. Supported by around 30 volunteers each day, it welcomes many of the sailors back week after week, and year after year.
Brian remains directly involved, attending twice a week through most of the season, actively participating and usually taking wheelchair users and their carers out on the water. The leadership and continuity he has provided over the years has been the backbone of its success and longevity. His wisdom, enthusiasm and vast experience continue to be invaluable, as he offers advice and support to the current volunteers.
Brian said of the awards ceremony: ”There were a lot of clubs there, many of them I’ve never heard of before, lots of people who are giving so much time to so many other people, and normally they don’t get recognised. I think it’s absolutely terrific that they can go up there and be presented to The Princess Royal to get their award.”
RYA Director pays tribute
RYA Director of Sport Development Rob Clark paid tribute to the enormous impact that volunteers have in sailing and boating communities.
“It’s always so inspiring to hear of the amazing work that is happening every day, up and down the country, by volunteers right at the heart of our sport,” Rob explained.
“Whether it’s encouraging newcomers to give it a try, looking after facilities so people can get afloat safely, running weekend racing, or fundraising for equipment so more people can be introduced to the joys of being on the water – there really is a rewarding role for everyone in our communities, from teenager to octogenarian!”
“Our sport relies so much on the goodwill and skills of volunteers at every level, without whom the opportunities to get involved in boating would be greatly reduced,” said RYA CEO Sara Sutcliffe MBE.
“They are very often the first point of contact for new participants across the nations and regions, and can help to motivate a lifetime’s interest, or inspire others to train for fulfilling careers across the marine industry.
“It’s so humbling to hear of the many examples of selfless commitment our award recipients have shown – in many cases spanning decades – and they represent many thousands more who give their time to support boating in whatever way, great or small. Our grateful thanks go to them all.”
Start your volunteering journey
Volunteers form the core of RYA and club initiatives, offering rewarding opportunities and assisting others to experience the water’s numerous benefits.
With various volunteering options available, dedicating even a small amount of your time can create a significant impact. Join us and make a difference today.
If you’re in that area why not get involved with Wealden Sailability – a volunteer run organisation which offers sailing opportunities and instruction to people with disabilities.