Turning the tide

Although the events of last year brought the Ahoy Centre’s usual programmes to a halt, its resilience and adaptations have buoyed its return.

As he reflects on what it’s like to be back at the Ahoy Centre, Dan O’Sullivan is smiling. There’s a sense of relief, he says, to see the charity’s young people back and enjoying the water.

“They haven’t seen each other for a while. Face-to-face interaction is kind of a new environment to get used to again.”

Many mistake Ahoy for a water sports club – a misconception that it’s keen to dispel. In fact the Deptford-based charity is doing much more than meets the eye. Ahoy serves disadvantaged, at-risk and disabled young people with sailing, rowing, water sports programmes and apprenticeships.

After months of virtual programmes, Dan, who is the charity’s fundraising manager, is upbeat when he says that about 90% of its in-person programmes are now back up and running.

Those virtual sessions were important, not only in keeping young people polished up on their sailing education but in giving them a sense of routine. But Dan says: “As soon as we sent out the invite to say that were were back on-site, the people we hadn’t heard from [for virtual sessions] were the first to sign back up. It goes to show how important that social interaction is to some of our beneficiaries.”

Each year Ahoy works with hundreds of local young people. They gain sailing qualifications, develop soft and transferable skills, and meek like-minded people. But most of all they get to be in an environment that works around them.

The charity aims to break the stereotype that water-based sports are only for affluent white communities, particularly as Ahoy is in a diverse area. “It’s about breaking that barrier and saying that you don’t need money to be able to do a sport,” Dan says.

Excerpt taken from the June/July 2021 issue of Lewisham Ledger