Welcome Back

Published 24/08/2020

Right about now in early August, I’d normally be welcoming many of you at our annual Cowes Week reception. But the extraordinary events of this year mean that’s simply not possible for the moment so I thought I’d take a few minutes to share with you what’s been going on at UKSA.

What a year

On the 31st January 2020, the UKSA team and I looked back on an incredible year, potentially our most successful year to date! We welcomed more children, young people and professional students than ever – more than 10,500.

As a flourishing Charity , and thanks to a reception hosted by our patron Her Royal Highness the Princess Royal, we were able to secure a number of major grants to support our capital development project, specifically the proposed new accommodation centre. These grants included UKSA’s largest ever single pledge – US$1.9 Million from the TK Foundation, a Bahamas based international shipping foundation that supports non-profit and youth programmes across the globe and a £450k pledge from the Whirlwind Charitable Trust – more about that later.

But UKSA has always been about more than numbers on a page. Our beneficiaries, customers and staff are at the heart of what we do.

We inspired school kids from across the UK by giving them their first taste of water-based activities and with your help, worked towards ensuring no child was left behind due to economic circumstance. We helped teenagers and young adults find alternative ways to learn and train using the power of the sea to broaden their horizons and embark on apprenticeships and gain employment in the marine sector. And we hosted students from all over the world, some visiting for the first time, and others returning to progress their professional training with us. Not least, we also welcomed more than 2400 children and young people from our own back yard by working with local primary schools and youth groups to ensure our on the water fun and learning based activities were available to even the most disadvantaged in our communities.

We were able to improve and upgrade our facilities for all our beneficiaries right across our site. By refurbishing our shower and changing facilities, we now provide a modern and quality space for anyone coming on and off the water. We upgraded our yacht training by bringing 4 new 45ft yachts into service. And you may remember we opened our new training centre which includes 10 new navigational training simulators, a training galley for superyacht crew and enables us to increase the number of students training for professional qualifications and careers in the maritime sector. This also included opening a full-sized sports hall and gym which provides invaluable access to fitness and well being activities for our residential students, as well as providing a space ashore for children to play games and exercise when not out on the water. In addition, and as part of our commitment to island life in which we play an active role, the sport hall and swimming pool are available to a plethora of local community groups.

But perhaps what I’m most proud of is the new and very important relationship with the E-ACT multi academy trust we entered into in 2019.

E-ACT brought 685 year 5 pupils, from 17 primary schools, for a residential adventure on the water with UKSA. Most of these children had not previously left the three-mile postcode area in which they have grown up. For them, travelling to Southampton, crossing the Solent, spending time away from home and having an adventure on the water with UKSA was a transformational experience they will never forget.

We will shortly be launching our Impact Report 2019/20 which will share more detail about all of our achievements. It will be available on our website or you can email us to request a copy.

Impacts of the Coronavirus

But it would be impossible to provide you with an update and not talk about the impact the global coronavirus pandemic has had on UKSA, and importantly the beneficiaries and customers we are here to serve.

I’m sure we have all come to realise that COVID-19 and its effects on all our lives will be with us for some time to come. Like so many other organisations across the UK we were forced to suspend operations and close our site on March 23rd this year, leaving just a skeleton team working from home working tirelessly to keep UKSA going.

The lockdown period and in particular the closure of schools has meant that more than 8000 children from across the UK have missed out on the transformational opportunities that UKSA can provide for them. The whole purpose of what we offer here is to provide immersive adventure experiences, away from home and school, and thereby broadening their view of the world for so many. Sadly with the current restrictions still in place, it is unlikely that schools will be able to return to us for the remainder of this year but we continue to work with all the relevant governing bodies to ensure that as soon as the situation changes, we will be ready and able to welcome them back.

Fortunately thanks to the diligent efforts of our teaching staff, and by working closely with our governing bodies, we have been able to deliver much of our usually classroom based content to approved virtual platforms, but this doesn’t apply to all areas.

Our gradual reopening at the end of July was a long awaited huge milestone for us. Our back office and support teams have pulled out all the stops to ensure our Cowes site is now COVID-19 compliant and that the all the health and safety measures we have introduced, resulted in us being approved by Visit England as Good to Go.

These measures, combined with all the social distancing requirements that will likely be in place for the foreseeable future, mean that our capacity to deliver to our children and young people is significantly reduced. Whereas we would normally have upwards of 300 students on site at any one time during the summer, this will now be capped at around 100, with generally not more than 70-80 people on site. And many of our support staff remain either on part time furlough, as well as working from home.

Looking forward

Our focus throughout this period has always been twofold – plan for how and when we might be able to reopen, as well as look to the future and how we ensure there is a UKSA still in place to support the thousands of children and young people who arguably need us now more than ever.

Our capital development plan plays a huge role here. The proposed new accommodation centre will not only significantly improve the standard of accommodation for all our residential visitors, but its flexible internal layout makes it far easier for us to safely accommodate groups and individuals in the new post pandemic world we find ourselves in.

Excitingly the board of Trustees and Executive, thanks to the pledges of capital donors, have agreed to progress with the stage 2 design phase of the project. The funding we have already secured is specifically restricted to the building of this new centre and cannot be switched to support other areas of UKSA’s work. This final design stage will be reviewed by the Board in September at which point, subject to the balance of funds having been raised, we hope to confirm we will be going ahead with the project this autumn. I can’t stress enough how critical the new accommodation centre and what it brings for our beneficiaries and students, in terms of helping UKSA recover from the period of business interruption.

How can you help?

UKSA believes passionately in inspiring and supporting children and young people to broaden their horizons through life enhancing water-based adventures, education and training for careers at sea, irrespective of how they are funded. In fact we work tirelessly to remove as many barriers as possible for individuals to come and experience the power of sea.change for themselves and this is where our incredible donors and funding partners come in. From local companies raising money for our Test the Water programme for all Year 6 Island children, to 5 and 6 figure grants from individuals and trusts who support the development of our new building and our yacht fleet – all of this is only possible with your help. Now more than ever your support is crucial in helping us make the difference to so many children and young people across the UK.

We will shortly be launching our Sea Change Fund which will help ensure there is a strong and resilient UKSA for the coming generations, providing water-based adventures and maritime training for those in need. So whether you can make a personal gift, take part in a fundraising event, nominate us for support through your company or make a donation from your Trust or Foundation, please get in contact with me or one of the fundraising team.

Thank you for your ongoing support of UKSA and I wish you all well through these uncertain times we all continue to face.

Ben Willows