“I retired early. It was sudden, not a planned thing. My company was taken over. I decided not to seek another ‘big job’. I started doing consulting but I wasn’t that busy. I began to think about volunteering. I came to Reach Volunteering. I was looking for something hands on and active. There were many attractive roles but they were largely office bound. And then a trustee role at Tideway Sailability Club came up. It was just right.
“It’s a sailing club for the disabled, providing sailing to people with physical and learning disabilities. Though I didn’t have a special interest in the disabled and I hadn’t been sailing, what appealed to me is that it was active and outdoors.
“When I joined Tideway it was mainly older people using the service. We began with a big push for younger people. There are a number of schools for children with autism near us in Southwark, South London. We introduced the youngsters to sailing. We discovered of all the sporting activities, sailing is one of the best. It’s very calming, not too physical. They have to concentrate and they are in charge. And we get them in a boat and in three or four lessons they will be sailing by themselves.
“Three disabled sailors started Tideway Sailability. They had been members of a sailing club but thought they were getting a raw deal. So they approached Southwark Council and the council leased them a building and a small plot of land. And that’s where we still are.
“The fleet includes specialist dinghies which have been designed for the disabled, enabling even those with very limited ability to sail independently. An electro server system operated by a joystick controller allows the sailor to control the rudder and the sails. There’s even a chin control system and a sip-and-puff system, which allows people to control the vessel with their mouth. We use a hoist to help those who need it to be safely and gently transferred between wheelchair and boat.