Tuesday, 4 August 2009

Gaining confidence through sailing

John Green founded the Helford River Childrens Sailing Trust about ten years ago and could never have imagined how successful it would become.

I met John a few months ago and he told me about the work of this ground breaking charity which aims to build individual confidence in children by teaching them to sail on the Helford. There are now around 15 local primary schools involved and around 350 children a year go through training there. In total, the charity has benefited some 3500 children and the heartening thing is that some of the 150 or so volunteers helping now went through the programme themselves in the early years and so know the benefits and are doing their bit to put something back.

I met Alison Collins, the current director of the charity, at the Ferryboat Inn near Mawnan Smith. I wasn't sure whether we were going out on the river today or not so must have looked hopelessly ill-prepared to her when we first met! But I had boots and a jacket in the car and was soon ship shape and ready to jump in the boat to go out to see their training work.

They aim to have two volunteers for every six children in training. Today I met Sarah, Adrian, John and Lee who were supporting Ailsa, the head coach, who works on the scheme four days a week during the summer months. You could tell that there was a great chemistry between Ailsa and the children she was teaching to sail.

The significant thing about this project is that is focuses on developing the individual confidence of children and a lot of effort is made to make sure that the charity reaches children from disadvantaged backgrounds and that they are given the opportunity to take part. They never ever charge for their lessons.

The children are given their own boat and must make their own decisions. Early learners are required to sail a boat from the south bank of the Helford to the north bank on their own, keeping concentration and making their own decisions. If they get it wrong, they fall in the water. There is no one else in the boat to help them (although volunteers are nearby to advise and to help those who fall in).

I think developing individual confidence in children is vital. Sometimes people can over emphasise "team work" as an attribute in working life. It is, of course, important. But the truth is that individual ability and the confidence to exercise judgement is more important and it is best learnt young.

I never learnt to sail, despite being brought up in Cornwall. But I am told they have a course for adults in September so might just give it a go.