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Influencing the influencers: We talk to Richard Percy of the Andrew Simpson Foundation

by Mark Jardine 17 Aug 12:00 BST
Bart's Bash 2017 in Weymouth © Alex & David Irwin / www.sportography.tv

We recently caught up with Richard Percy of the Andrew Simpson Foundation to find out the latest on Bart's Bash 2018, the Andrew Simpson Watersports Centres and the Foundation's Aims of increasing participation and improving the lives of young people through sailing.

Mark Jardine: I understand there's a bit of a change of focus for Bart's Bash this year?

Richard Percy: Yes, we have always loved the event Bart's Bash as its focus is inspiring sailors, increasing participation, getting people back out on the water and connecting the world of sailing. From a fundraising perspective, it's not necessarily where our focus is, so what we thought is, we have a platform where people can raise funds and therefore we can turn that around and say to people, "What would you like to crowdfund for? What is the project that will benefit your club and increase participation at your organisation?

We have a lot of requests for our charitable reach to be extended, and we are only able to financially contribute to a limited number of individuals or projects. However, we can offer Bart's Bash as a global fundraising platform to financially benefit people's local projects.

Mark: So effectively you're giving Bart's Bash to the clubs for their own fundraising purposes?

Richard: Bart's Bash has always been the clubs' event, for them to use as much or as little as they want. There is no other global sailing event that connects people around the world, like Bart's Bash therefore we're giving clubs the opportunity to use it purely as a great family day or on the water, or to fundraise for a particular project or youth programme – whichever suits them best.

Mark: The Andrew Simpson Foundation has opened a few Watersports Centres recently. What is your aim for those?

Richard: Developing sustainable watersports centres globally has always been part of our vision. It's a bit of challenge but represents us taking the bull by the horns to help increase participation around the world. They are social enterprises in themselves, so any profits generated go back into the Foundation to help fund the charitable activity which is delivered through the centres. On one side it's us delivering on our mission - this year we're looking at getting 10,000 young people on to the water - and also us delivering an element of our volunteer training, recognising that we need more inspiring role-models and coaches in the world to get people on the water. For the long-term they are providing a fund-raising mechanism for the Foundation to keep going for years to come.

Mark: You've also had a focus on foiling. What was the reasoning behind getting involved with what is still a relatively niche area of sailing?

Richard: Change is coming. I'm sure there are plenty of traditionalists out there and plenty of interested parties in traditional classes, but we're being approached by people from outside the sport who are genuinely interested in sailing due to foiling. I've just been in Lake Garda at our Watersports Centre there and it's the first time I've seen kids choose to go out on a boat rather than a windsurfer or a kiteboard and go out for a cruise. That hasn't been happening for a long time and the accessibility is now there with foilingFoiling is such an attractive new branch to sailing, and we are pleased to be at the forefront of making that branch accessible. If we can excite people or re-ignite their passion in the sport that we love, and Andrew loved, then why wouldn't we do it?

Mark: We all love sailing, but what is it that sailing can offer that other sports cannot offer?

Richard: Those of us in the industry recognise the benefits that we get as sailors, and we've commissioned an academic research project designed to demonstrate those benefits. Each of our 7 Community Sailing Programmes run in our Andrew Simpson Watersports Centres are outcome focussed; designed to maximise the benefit of sailing for particular groups of young people. These fantastic outcomes – whether it be self-confidence, teamwork, communication, resilience or increased physical and mental wellbeing – are the reason we passionately believe that more people should be given the opportunity to go sailing.

Sailing is unique, and we work in an ever-changing dynamic space which develops us as people, so our question to ourselves is "how can we open this up to more people?" The Foundation is looking to influence the agenda and ask the question: "Why sailing?" So many people look at it as just racing, going out and aiming to win a regatta. That could be an outcome for some people, but from our point of view, sailing offers so many benefits and we are trying to get people to recognise that.

If building confidence is what is needed then let's do that, for example we have a programme based around low-level mental health issues, using sailing to help improve young people's mental wellbeing. We have another programme; Sailfit which aims to tackle inactivity in young people and develop healthy eating habits Sailing is a brilliant example of a sport which is physical and engages people Another of our programmes in Portsmouth is based around tackling the unemployment cycle and raising the aspirations of young people. We know if we engage people on a regular basis that we can break the cycle of long-term unemployment. We know we can instil a passion in them and give them the skills and qualifications to work in the marine sector. That's the way I think we should be thinking about sailing and we're just trying to move the agenda on.

The problem with our sport is that around 90% of the sailing world is funded by national Olympic committees which are all about medals. I get it and understand it; however, our sport is so much more than a medal at the Olympics, but even when highlighting that to some countries I am greeted with incredulity. We need to move their agendas on to the many other benefits of getting out on the water.

Mark: So, the Andrew Simpson Foundation is all about breaking down the barriers, showing people and the sport's influencers the benefits of sailing, how it is a sport for all and a sport for life.

Richard: Absolutely. If we can influence some key people out there and move the agenda on to broaden their horizons on the benefits of getting out in the water then they'll come, because it is amazing, as we all know!

Mark: Thank you very much for your time and the real insight as to what the Andrew Simpson Foundation, and yourself, are passionate about.

Find out more at www.andrewsimpsonfoundation.org

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