The Trinity Sailing Foundation was conceived in 1998 and brought into being at the start of 1999 by the bringing together of three organisations with shared interests in sail training for young people linked to the preservation of historic sailing vessels.
The owners of the vessels agreed it was probable they could achieve more working together than they could acting independently, which they did on an informal basis initially. The experiment was successful so at the start of the following year, 1999, they pooled their resources and began operations from a new base in Brixham, becoming a registered charity at the same time.
Trinity has two principal aims:
• Assisting the personal development of young people, especially those who are disadvantaged, with the intention of improving their prospects as they begin to face the challenges of adult life
• Preserving their three locally built vessels, former sailing trawlers dating from the 1890s to the 1920s, as important examples of maritime and industrial heritage. Providing them with a socially beneficial modern role helps fulfil the associated aim of promoting interest in heritage and enabling people to access it.
The Foundation has an active Trustee board that is closely involved in the running of its activities and ensuring good governance. A small office team is responsible for overseeing the operation of the vessels, dealing with the individuals or groups who are its clients and raising the funds required to support young people and ensuring they are not prevented from participating through lack of financial resources. The Trustees meet quarterly and management meetings comprised of the office team and three of the trustees are held each month to review all aspects of the Foundation’s activities in detail.
A dedicated and lively team of sea staff crew the boats and ensure that high quality outcomes are achieved that meet the needs of individual clients. Staff regularly progress within the organisation, many beginning as volunteers, moving to more senior salaried roles over time, and not infrequently finishing by becoming part of the management team.
Trinity’s three vessels are “Leader”, built in 1892 and the largest in the fleet; “Golden Vanity”, the smallest dating from 1908 and “Provident” built in 1924. All are examples of the different classes of Brixham sailing trawler, a now-legendary type of working vessel. All three have become part of the National Historic Fleet, the vessels judged to be of pre-eminent importance in terms of maritime and industrial heritage.
Financial viability is ensured by the provision of a range of sailing activities that between them support the Foundation’s charitable aims and enable the vessels to be kept in operation from the beginning of April to October each year, providing regular employment for their crews.
Since Trinity was established around 10,000 disadvantaged young people have benefitted from participation in the carefully-structured sail training courses that the Foundation provides. These are aimed at assisting the young people to grow in confidence and self-esteem, learn new life skills and develop experience in working as part of a team, and encourage leadership, self reliance and other attributes that will stand them in good stead in later years.
These young people come to the Foundation in groups, accompanied by adult staff who are involved in their ongoing welfare. During their time at sea the adult staff and the young people live and work together 24 hours a day, typically for a week at a time – which is the maximum length of time most of the young people are willing to commit to, and the maximum that the adult staff can be released from their core duties and responsibilities. Fortunately, in that time initial reservations and barriers are quickly broken down and within 24-48 hours new group dynamics have emerged. By the end of the voyage the attitudes, self-belief and expectations of the young people are transformed.
The motivation and willingness to attempt new challenges that the experience engenders can be taken back to their home environment and built upon.
Beginning in 2017, Trinity now also works with organisations that assist ex-service people who are being helped to recover from physical, emotional and mental health problems.
The Foundation is a registered provider of Residentials and Expeditions for young people who are participating in the Duke of Edinburgh’s Award scheme. It also runs Royal Yachting Association training courses for a variety of nautical vocational qualifications.
In addition there is an extensive programme of cruising and charter voyages that enable members of the general public to learn about maritime heritage and actively participate in helping sail the vessels, which informs and educates them about the skills and qualities needed for life under traditional sail. The income from these provides the funds that support the ongoing maintenance and conservation effort.
All of the organisations that bring disadvantaged young people to participate in sail training activities contribute what they can towards the cost of providing them. Few can afford the full cost, however, and the Foundation’s fundraising efforts are directed mainly at enabling it to bridge the gap.
In the present economic climate, with pressure on education and welfare budgets, and grant-making trusts limited in the awards they feel able to make to charities like the Trinity Sailing Foundation, is simply is not possible to keep all three vessels full, and their crews employed, on sail training alone, which is why the other activities are so vital.
What we say is that our two aims – youth welfare and heritage – are complementary: our type of vessel is ideal for delivering meaningful and important outcomes for deserving young people, and using them for a socially beneficial purpose helps ensure their survival.
A common thread links the Foundation’s sail training with other activities such as the Duke of Edinburgh’s Award and cruising and charter opportunities for the general public. Not only is the environment the same – strong, stable, homely, reassuring – but the way we deliver the activities is the same whether the ship’s company is comprised of disadvantaged or disaffected young people, their peers aiming for DoE awards, or adults who may range in age from 20 to 70 and beyond.
It is a hands-on experience, where everyone works together under the direction of our crews, carrying out the tasks that enable the vessel to get from where it is to where it needs to get to. Our staff organise people into teams for each specific task, explain and demonstrate how it needs to be done, then supervise while it is carried out to ensure that it is done correctly and safely.
From the outset there is involvement and communication between our staff and those in their charge, as well as between those guests, clients or trainees.
By the end of the first sailing session the ice has been broken, people have begun to make friends and relationships start to develop. When sailing for the day is over there is the satisfaction of having reached the first destination and time to relax before dinner. Meals are taken with everyone – up to twenty people – sitting round the same table in the saloon and sharing the same meal. Foundation staff, sail trainees, adult staff and guests intermingle.
Sail trainees also help with the preparation of meals, and even guests help with the washing up.
It only takes a day, or at most two, for the dynamics involved to have melded a diverse number of individuals into a team. And from then on it just keeps getting better. Every day a new plan, agreed jointly, and a new destination. Sometimes a cross-Channel voyage or a night passage, or the early hours of the morning on watch in rough weather while half the ship’s company are asleep below. New places to explore: harbours, creeks, beaches or anchorages. Different communities. Amazing scenery. Wildlife.
What is certain is that at the end of the voyage everyone has had an experience to remember. And for the young sail trainees so much has been learned, so many life skills gained, new relationships started, confidence built and self esteem developed, that they leave aware of being capable of more than they had ever realised, and prepared to take on new challenges that may change their life for the better.