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NI volunteers celebrate as they take home RYA awards

by Emma Blee 27 Nov 2019 11:30 GMT 22 November 2019

Three volunteers from Northern Ireland are celebrating as their efforts were recognised by Her Royal Highness The Princess Royal at RYA's Volunteer Awards.

The governing body held an award ceremony on Friday 22 November at One Great George Street, Westminster, London, to reward hard-working volunteers all over the UK for their outstanding contribution to sailing and boating.

David Nelson from Ballyholme Yacht Club received a Lifetime Commitment Award, Graham Skelton from Carrickfergus Sailing Club collected an Outstanding Contribution Award and Abbie Brown from Donaghadee Sailing Club was given a Youth Award.

Abbie commented: "From volunteering I think you learn good life skills, good teaching skills and how to be kind" she explained "When I was younger, I learnt how to sail with people who were volunteers so it's a great way to give something back."

Each of the volunteers were nominated by fellow volunteers, club members and other members of the boating community.

Chair of RYANI Jackie Patton said: "It was an honour to attend this event on behalf of RYANI. We wish to congratulate Abbie, Graham and David who deserve recognition for their dedication and service to the sport. Volunteers play essential roles in the delivery of sailing activities, running of Clubs and events. Without such inspiring people, sports wouldn't function. I am very thankful for all that our volunteers do."

David Nelson from Ballyholme Yacht Club (BYC) was given a lifetime commitment award for his 30 years' service to the sport.

During this time, David has progressed as a sailor and competed in Regional and National events, and he has also served as a National Judge and holds Coach Assessor accreditation. He brings a wealth of experience into his volunteering at BYC, where he has recently demonstrated his instruction and leadership qualities by overseeing the Dolphin & Shark programme, creating a very positive learning environment that has led to a significant increase in cadet members and vibrant youth sailing extending into the Autumn.

David has also taken on the crucial role of Club Bosun, keeping an extensive training dinghy fleet safe and fit for purpose. Sitting on the BYC Training Committee his advice is always welcome and his opinion well respected. His continued, dedicated commitment has been of great support to the club, where he has been instrumental in the increase in on-water participation. He is held in very high esteem by the members, cadet parents/guardians and his fellow instructors at BYC.

Graham Skelton from Carrickfergus Sailing Club (CSC) received an Outstanding Contribution award. As Groundsman, he ensures that the grounds around the club are maintained, and he has also taken on the responsibility of Club Bosun.

Graham and his team pay meticulous attention to repairs and maintenance of the club's fleet of safety boats, and he regularly sees to the maintenance of the inside of the clubhouse too. A qualified RYA Powerboat Instructor, he has helped members to gain Powerboat Level 1 and 2 qualifications and he is an integral part of the safety support boat rota, probably doing more than his fair share of volunteering for this task.

He has successfully trained junior members for the Honda Youth RIB Championship, taking the time to instruct them at their level and make the training fun but focused. Graham is also a supporter of social activities within the club and acts as quizmaster during quiz nights in the winter months. Enthusiastic, motivated, and hardworking, he is a great all-rounder for whom nothing is too much trouble.

Abbie Brown from Donaghadee Sailing Club (DSC) received a Youth Award on the night. In her role as Junior Commodore and Assistant Instructor at DSC, Abbie devotes many hours of her time to organising junior events and teaching sailing.

In addition, she supports the senior committee meetings by representing the juniors and reporting on the many varied junior events being organised both on and off the water. Recently selected for the Northern Ireland Laser Performance Squad, her enthusiasm for sailing has impacted the community.

This year, she helped to re-fashion, organise and promote the club's Bright Night Sailing Programme, which was oversubscribed. She has taught many children to sail, helped with rescue boat cover and organised a tuck shop. The result of her enthusiasm and infectious love of sailing has been a remarkable increase in the younger members' participation in regular club racing. Her most outstanding achievement this year was the organisation of the DSC Junior Regatta.

Abbie has developed the Junior Committee and its position within the club structure and has demonstrated leadership qualities and maturity beyond her 15 years.

Nominations are now invited for the 2020 RYA Volunteer Awards. For more information visit

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