In August 2017, only 3 months after giving birth, my cousin Polly Birch, aged 32, died of cancer. She was a vet by training, but particularly loved sailing as a result of her childhood association with the Island. Her family thought it was appropriate to set up a fund to give the opportunity to Island children to have the chance to learn to sail. ‘Polly’s Fund’ was set up to offer a special opportunity to Isle of Wight children to apply for a five-day sailing or water sports course during their summer holidays for just £20, enabling them to have fun, be adventurous and learn new skills through participation in outdoor activities. This was done in association with UKSA, whose mantra is in harnessing the power of the sea to transform the lives of young people. As a National Maritime Youth Charity and the largest RYA training centre in the world, the breadth of their courses and beneficiaries make it a truly unique organisation.
Fundraising in the name of Polly
Each summer sees the annual Polly’s Day sporting event, with a twist, at Polly’s family home. There is something for all the family, from netball and rugby round robins to tennis and a 5k run – all done with a friendly competitive nature. For the less sporty there was a raffle and the opportunity to buy delicious homemade cakes!
Due to circumstances surrounding COVID-19 in 2020 UKSA was, unfortunately, unable to run a spring or summer programme. However, this didn’t stop Polly’s wonderful friends and family who raised an astounding £35,000 for her fund through a virtual Polly’s Day to offer on-water adventures to deserving Island children at a time when they need us most. Since the launch of the programme in the summer of 2018, 254 Isle of Wight children have taken part in Polly’s Challenge and have had a summer of adventure learning at UKSA.
Since the fund was established in 2017 over £130,000 has been donated though the amazing fundraising efforts of Polly’s friends and family who rally together each year in her memory.
Making a splash again!
As you will be aware, 2020 and the first part of 2021 was very tough for us and all the young people on the Island. UKSA had to cancel or reduce all its programmes. However, thanks to a large contribution from Polly’s Fund, they were able, earlier this summer, to get 366 year 6 & 7 students out on the water for a day as part of the Test the Water programme with their classmates. Following on from their Test the Water experience 118 children have also participated in a Polly’s challenge week during the summer and autumn holidays. These children have also contributed £2,500+ this year in fundraising towards Polly’s Fund!
The Isle of Wight College has a national reputation for providing outstanding teaching and learning and has many first-class facilities. Our Further Education programmes, run with the College, offer young people opportunities to begin a career in sailing and watersports.
Thousands of students attend UKSA each year with the aim of gaining the skills and qualifications needed to build a successful career in the maritime industry. Here we share some of their inspirational stories.