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The voice of Scotland’s vibrant voluntary sector

Published by Scottish Council for Voluntary Organisations

TFN is published by the Scottish Council for Voluntary Organisations, Mansfield Traquair Centre, 15 Mansfield Place, Edinburgh, EH3 6BB. The Scottish Council for Voluntary Organisations (SCVO) is a Scottish Charitable Incorporated Organisation. Registration number SC003558.

Making sailing accessible to all

This feature is about 8 years old

A group of carers is bringing adventure to children with disabilities by creating the sailing charity Sail On

Sail On was conceived by a small group of parents of disabled children, most of whom were friends, a couple of years ago.

Gavin, our secretary, had a boat and used to take the kids out on it. The children loved it and because of their response we thought about formalising something, making sailing available to more children with disabilities.

We’re in the process of making the charity a legal entity to make a go of it to support as many disabled children as possible.

Children see sailing as incredibly exciting. Because ours have disabilities, doing exciting things – like adventure sports etc – is quite foreign to them. Not all love it but those who do can’t get enough. And often a little gentle persuasion can get even the most reluctant to give it a go.

We sail from Largs and take out a couple of children at a time. Sailing is not an easy sport: it’s very active so having disabled children on board means we have to be very focused and very safety minded.

Some parents just wouldn’t allow a disabled child to go sailing. But with proper safety measures in place, there’s no reason why they shouldn’t.

I’ve coaxed many a reluctant parent – and child – to give it a go. And they’ve all been won over. Oliver, my son, who is paraplegic and has learning disabilities, was filled with fear at the mere mention of the boat. Eventually (it took about a year) he gave it a go and now loves it.

It’s important to offer disabled children as much stimulus as possible. Their life can be hugely mundane otherwise. That’s why we created Sail On: to give children more options. Because looking after someone who is disabled commands so much time and effort, carers and parents don’t have time to be creative. So we want to be there for them to support them.

Setting up the charity hasn’t been easy but we’ve been determined to see it though. The charity regulator is very helpful; we’ve also been supported by the Scottish Council for Voluntary Organisations. Regulations, checks and masses of red tape have been a bit of a minefield but we’ve managed to navigate our way through most of it.

The Royal Yachting Association has been great too. It’s been incredible really. Despite our initial scepticism, no-one has turned round and said “you can’t do that”. It’s been the opposite: everyone we’ve dealt with has only offered solutions.

We’ve lots of support and interest from families wanting to get involved. We plan to start enrolling volunteers in March 2015 who’ll then undertake training. That will take a fair bit of time. We’re looking for volunteers who have an active interest in sailing but have time to be trained in sailing with disabled children.

We need more leisure activities for disabled people in this country. They’re almost non-existent. I think the private sector fails to see that there’s actually a lot of money to be made from it.

I’ve been to adventure parks in the USA designed exclusively for disabled children and they’re hugely popular. They have zip slides, bungees, abseiling- practically everything available to non-disabled people. They can do it – why can’t we?

Jane Barrington



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