Thursday, 25 October 2012

A day in the life of Sussex Sailability

Hello and welcome to my blog. It’s lovely to see you again. If you're a first time visitor c’mon in, you’re very welcome.

As I mentioned last week, I’m focusing on disability at the moment so last Saturday I spent the afternoon with Sussex Sailability.

Sussex Sailability was founded by the RYA at Sussex Yacht Club in 2000 with the aim of encouraging disabled people to take up sailing.

Now in its twelfth year, Pat Jackson, one of the original founders said, “We are delighted with how it’s going. We started with eight boats, two of which were loaned to us by Andy Cassell, one of the first Paralympic sailing Gold Medalists.  Now we’ve got twelve boats, forty volunteers and thirty-fifty members.

Some members are in a wheelchair for all their waking hours. We can get them into a hoist and sailing within thirty minutes. After two or three sessions we let them lose on their own and they can say, “I’m in charge now,” and it’s quite humbling. 
It’s also superb for people with mental disabilities.  About 10 years ago we had a lad with depression. He wouldn’t even get up in the morning but he sailed with us and began to come out of himself. He ended up with a job in the fitness industry.”

I joined them on the last day of the 2012 sailing season and some sailors told me what Sussex Sailability meant to them. “It’s my life”, said J, “ I was in a wheelchair and it gave me a reason to get up and go. Now I help to teach other disabled sailors how to sail.” R said, “It’s freeing and it gives us equality with the able-bodied.”

After being kitted out with waterproofs and a lifejacket, I joined Mark and Gabi, his carer, on the Pioneer, a Ro-Ro powerboat designed to accommodate wheelchair users. Mark lives in a residential care home and has been coming to Sussex Sailability every 3 weeks for the last 7 years. Gabi says he loves it and he would have to because that day was wet, cold and calm.  

Despite the poor weather, John Mactear, acting joint chairman, was determined not to disappoint those who had turned out so set up a racecourse at the mouth of the River Adur.  Four Access boats took part, two of which entered into a spirited race. One boat was hampered by a rudder which had been broken that morning and sadly that's how it will remain because Sussex Sailability do not have the funds to fix it.

Sussex Sailability, like so many other voluntary organisations, is perpetually short of money. Its sailing fleet is aging and damaged sails and centerboards are patched up, yet nothing holds them back. As J said, “We’ll never turn people* away. Even if we have to put them in a bath tub, we’ll get them on the water.”

If you would like to find out more about joining, volunteering or fund-raising for Sussex Sailability visit or call 01798 812265.

If you would like to make a donation any amount will do but here are a few items on their wish list:-

Buoyancy aids                   £30
Ropes                                 £20-30
Waterproof trousers            £50
Trailer wheels                     £80
Waterproof jackets              £80
Rudder                                £150
Tin of anti-fouling paint      £150

It’s half term next week so I’ll be back in about 10 days with Alison Lapper’s thoughts on Lord Coe's statement that “we will never think of disability the same way” after the 2012 Paralympics.

Bye for now.

* Minimum sailing age is 14 years old. 

Thursday, 18 October 2012

"We will never think of disability in the same way."

Hello and welcome to my blog.  It's great to see you again and I hope you've had a fruitful week. I confess that mine has been mixed.

In the next few blogs I want to talk about something close to my heart, physical and mental disability.

Let me start by saying that I believe that our society would be happier, fairer and more successful if disabled people were as fully integrated into society as they wished to be and were treated with dignity and compassion. For that reason I'm going to focus on the 2012 Paralympic Games in London because that's where we saw this in action and it was inspirational.

We had a one day pass for the Paralympics and at the end of the day we were desperate to return not only because we were stunned by the standard of sportsmanship but because the atmosphere was addictive. It wasn't the atmosphere created by the Games Makers, but the one created by the disabled spectators. They were proud, confident and our equals. Indeed it felt like they were more than equals because the Paralympics was their party and we were the guests. My one abiding memory was of a young girl, about 11 or so, dancing her socks off to rock music during a basketball match. She had celebral palsy and I so wished that she had been captured on camera because she summed up what could be achieved if we set our minds to it.  I'm not just talking about the fact that she was excited enough to dance, I believe that she could dance so freely because a whole infrastructure had been set up to allow her to get there; the venue was dedicated to serve her needs and the spectators made her feel at home.

As Roberta Nichols from Westcliff-on-Sea wrote in The Times (Tuesday September 11 2012),

"The recent exposure to so many disabilities must surely have made a difference. Instead of staring, or feeling uncomfortable in their presence, let us hope that more people will now welcome them (the disabled) into restaurants, shops and workplaces"  

Would that girl have danced so freely if she had felt unwelcome?

I would go further and say that any welcome must extend to practical and lasting assistance so that it becomes the norm to see disabled and able bodied people dining out together, going to the cinema, sitting together on the train. Disabled people and their carers have enough to contend with everyday of their lives, why should they be stigmatised and marginalised too?

Lord Coe said that the UK  "will never think of disability in the same way," and LOCOG showed us the way. It would be criminal not to build on the wave of goodwill towards the disabled and perhaps we can start by treating them as our neighbours who could probably teach us more about living in one hour than we could learn in a year.

Next week, I'll be featuring Sailability, the RYA's (Royal Yachting Association), initiative to encourage and support people with disabilities to take up sailing.

Bye for now.

Monday, 8 October 2012

Movies and your Memories

Hello and welcome to my blog. It's lovely to see you again. If you're new to lifeon, come on in you're very welcome.

Last week I mentioned Shoreham Wordfest, our local festival of the written, spoken and sung word. Now in its second year, Wordfest is developing its own momentum.  At least a third of the events were sold out and I was struck by the level of interest in local history and the support for new local writers. As a new local writer myself, it's encouraging to see that people are prepared to come and listen to our work; work which may not see the light of day without this sort of opportunity.

It was at the Cinema-by-Sea talk by David Fisher that I learned of Movies and Memories, a Screen Archive project to gather personal memories from the residents and visitors of West Sussex seaside towns. The memories of the over 50's are of particular interest but younger souls can take part if they'd like.

I fit into the latter category and want to share a memory from 1973, the year we moved from Crawley to Shoreham and I was just a stringy 8 year old.

We'd brought a house on the spanking new Wimpy estate on Buckingham Farm, North Shoreham. Ours was one of only a handful of finished houses so we spent our first year living on a building site. Back then they weren't sealed off so to me we'd ended up in a vast adventure playground.

We launched ourselves into giant sandpits from half built houses, we left neat rows of finger prints in newly applied putty, we built houses out of "spare" bricks, timber and concrete and made dens in the back of garages, the bottom of drain stacks and in coal sheds. We would go from door to door asking our new neighbours if they had any carpet offcuts, old bric-a-brac or kids we could play with. If we got tired of that we'd have a stone fight with our mortal enemies, the ginger-headed McWatts. It was an urban idyll.

One damp autumn day the McWatts had gone to ground so me and Claire, best friends forever, squelched our way down Black Patch Grove waiting for something exciting to happen. We decided to pass the time by walking in the deep muddy troughs created by Caterpillar tracks but didn't get far. After a few slurpy steps my wellies stuck fast and there was no shifting them. Knowing that mum would not be impressed if I returned home in my socks, I decided to rock to and fro to see if that would help. I continued doing this until gravity kicked in.  Claire yelled "Timber!" as I slowly keeled over into the mud and emerged looking like a thickly coated chocolate biscuit.

As we trudged back home, me holding my wellies and Claire holding her sides,  I convinced myself that I looked perfectly normal from behind and thanked God that the McWatts were still nowhere to be seen.

If you've got any memories you'd like to share email Sara Duffy or Gillian Edom at

Take care and see you next week.