Use your leadership skills with a 'hands on' charity

Tideway Sailability sail boats


Businessman Kevin Abbott describes himself as a turnaround leader. He used his skills to set a sailing club for the disabled on course and to help a young entrepreneur make a successful product launch.

“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.

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. 

“Financially there was always a bit of an issue. With the Board, I helped the charity find ways to cut costs. We moved to a situation where we could reduce the price of sailing to £5 for two hours and now we’ve got a totally sustainable model. We had a grant from a local trust in Southwark to promote ourselves to the young kids in general in our area .One summer 400 local youngsters came and did taster sessions.  

“One of our most successful fundraiser efforts was encouraging donors to sponsor new dinghies – we got four new boats. “Volunteers do the work, maintaining the specialist equipment, maintaining the boats, caulking and painting to keep them shipshape. As anyone who has ever owned a boat, this is a never ending task.

“Volunteering for Tideway gave me what I was looking for, initially as a trustee to support Tideway to become financially stable. Later on, I became an active hands on volunteer. But there’s much more than that. I’ve met lots of similarly minded people and very committed people. And I’ve learned a lot from the disabled people who come to us. They’re brilliant. Their perseverance. How tough it can be for them to get there every week and they always arrive with a smile.


With the Board, I helped the charity find ways to cut costs. 

“A year ago I found I had more time in the winter months. Again I logged on to Reach. The Prince’s Trust was looking for business mentors in South London to help young entrepreneurs explore and develop their ideas, to realise their potential and make a positive start in life. With my business experience I felt I could be of value. And the time commitment fitted."

“After a day of training, I met my first mentee. Her business plan was to develop a variety of designs to be printed on mobile phone covers and sold online. She’s a fashion designer. Though I have little fashion experience, I could help. I have quite a bit of experience running businesses on the internet.

“We worked on a marketing plan, researched the competition, but the major task was to find a printer who would be able to work with a range of designs and in small quantities. We eventually found a printer who would be best. Unfortunately her business plan was not supported with funds from the Trust. So I helped her get a personal loan from a bank and set up a company. And she’s now in business and online with Amazon, selling the covers. We got her up and running. And I feel good.”

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