The Honorary Founders of UKSA – Silvia and Noel Lister

Noel Lister will be best remembered as an entrepreneur, adventurer, philanthropist and committed family man. He was born in 1927 in Southport. He spent the first three years of his life in India. After completing his schooling he went straight into signing up with the army for six years, where his entrepreneurial spirit was already apparent, on a troop ship to Egypt towards the end of WWII when he traded cigarettes and tea to other soldiers.

Once back on home soil he entered the world of retail by working in a furniture store. He met and married Sylvia in 1955, they had two children Penny and Paul. With Sylvia at his side he built up his own furniture business, popularising the concept of the dining room suite by selling tables with matching chairs, and introducing bunk beds to the family home. His entrepreneurial spirit and constant re-evaluation of what works best led him to his fortune when his empire grew and he set up MFI in 1964 – launching the concept of shed retailing and out of town shopping.

A bold and fearless adventurer

Noel was a bold adventurer and pretty fearless. He campaigned his racing yachts over many years during the time he ran MFI and accumulated a large amount of silverware, racing in top national and international competitions RORC races and Fastnet etc.

From MFI to world exploration

After an exhilarating and life changing career as a retail genius he sold MFI at the age of 58 in 1985. Furniture giant IKEA then arrived in the UK in 1987, good timing some may say on Noel’s part! He then furthered his passion for sailing, spending a good decade or so double circumnavigating the world with his wife Sylvia on their yacht Whirlwind XII. His favourite destinations were Alaska and Papua New Guinea.

UKSA Founders Sylvia and Noel Lister

While sailing the world he had time to reflect on his wonderful life, and knew how lucky he was and wanted to pass his passion onto the next generation, by giving all children the chance to go sailing.

Passing on his passion for sailing and exploration to the next generation

At this time Mike Koppstein was Noel’s skipper and was with Noel as the idea blossomed into the UKSA a sailing charity. Noel was quite a shy unassuming person and sailing made him feel comfortable. He understood his own limitations in his shyness and saw how the sailing environment made him more sociable. It bought the gamesmanship and confidence out of him. In founding the UKSA the priority for him was to make an initial charitable donation but then for it to run as a business.

Making every pound go further

He was always very creative in making a pound go further while cleverly creating some income – so it was not just about giving money, but about making the UKSA run efficiently.

UKSA Founders Sylvia and Noel Lister

The ‘Lister Spirit’ established UKSA in 1987

Noel had raced in Cowes for years and when the opportunity arose to buy a waterfront centre from the sports council in October 1987, he knew it would be perfect. He invested £4 million from his Lister Charitable Trust to start the place a fresh, and applied his entrepreneurial principles to setting up the charity. In the early days there were 60 beds and plenty of dinghies and no yachts but it was busy with 1500 children a year taking part in activities. The initial goal was to increase this operation by buying more equipment to enable more schools to come along. Today’s captial project still follows these origins. 

Career opportunities in yachting and watersports

With the growth in leisure holidays, it became apparent that there were job opportunities for young people within the watersports industry so UKSA looked into providing instructed training courses. The courses extended the operational arm of the charity, brought in income and helped young people set off on careers. It also kept the centre busy all year round, instead of closing for winter like it did in the early days. Later, the yacht training courses were established in response to a gap in the market and a need all around the world for experienced crew for the growing superyacht industry.

Their aim was, and remains, to introduce as many young people as possible to the inspiration and challenge of sailing that had done so much to enrich their own lives.

UKSA Patron HRH The Princess Royal

UKSA gained the royal seal of approval in 1992 when HRH The Princess Royal became UKSA’s patron.

Our Royal Patron, the Royal Highness The Princess Royal

In recent years we’ve evolved into a youth training charity with a focus on personal development.

Today UKSA welcomes over 10,000 people though it’s doors, helping more people than ever.