We all sail together

12 December 2018 | North West England

Rudyard Sailability

Club where disabled are allowed to shine at sailing.

“The club’s motto is that there should be no barrier to enjoyment.”

Meet Dennis Priebe, founder of Rudyard Sailability which allows anyone living with a disability to enjoy the sport of sailing.

Based on Rudyard Lake, in North Staffordshire, the club is dedicated to those who are disabled and their able-bodied families too so they can get involved in something fun together.

“Sailing is the only sport that can provide a level playing field,” explains Dennis. “If you look out on the lake and see a group sailing, you would not be able to tell who was disabled and who wasn’t.”

There are 74 regular members who attend, many with their families. Meanwhile around 3,000 children from special schools in the county also visit each year. There are a variety of boating experiences available from full on fast racing to sedate trips up the lake in the company of one their experienced volunteers.

The boat house has a hoist which can be attached to the pontoon to aid people unable to transfer safely. For those who don’t want to transfer they have a powerboat with a drawbridge facility which enables a wheelchair user to access the boat and enjoy a trip up the lake.

“We’re trying to promote independence, involvement and achievement as much as possible through everything we’re doing,” said Jackie Griffiths, Rudyard Sailability’s Secretary.

New for the spring, the club will unveil their new state-of-the art £1m boathouse and training centre. Rudyard Sailability has been chosen as a TSB Local Charity partner by the bank's branches in Staffordshire, and partners have been down to help get the boathouse up and running.

“TSB have been amazing, they have been down here and put on their hard hats and lugged stones, mixed cement and painted walls,” said Jackie.

Dennis, who himself walks with crutches due to a spinal injuries, said: “The whole ethos with the new building is that we wanted it to be accessible to every disability and provide a level of dignity and privacy that people deserve.”

The centre is designed so everyone, regardless of severity of disability, can be completely independent. Even the hygiene room is fully-automatic, with the changing, showering, wash and blow dry facilities designed with privacy, dignity and independence in mind.

Jackie’s daughter Tilly, now 18, has been sailing since first sitting on her mum’s lap in a boat aged three. At seven, she took the tiller of a dinghy for the first time and never looked back.

At the age of one, Tilly was diagnosed with spinal muscular atrophy (SMA), a genetic condition weakening her muscles meaning she is unable to walk and uses a powered wheelchair to move around.

She won a Pride of Britain Award in 2008, aged eight, after raising £360,000 to buy powered wheelchairs for other disabled children.

Sailing gave her the chance to compete on a level playing field in a way other sports could not, even racing against her older sister Candice.

“There is such a warm, positive energy at the boathouse,” says Jackie. “We are all one big sailing family here.”

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