Gift lets disabled sailors enjoy the water for free at Otley Sailing Club

Ben Bradley is kitted out to take to the water at Otley

Ben Bradley is kitted out to take to the water at Otley

First published in Local news Wharfedale Observer: Photograph of the Author by , Reporter

Sailors with disabilities can look forward to enjoying the sport free in Otley next year.

Residents of all ages from Hollybank Trust, which cares for and educates severely disabled children and adults, are already regular visitors to Otley Sailing Club.

And the club, which relies on its volunteers, uses specially-adapted boats to provides weekly sailing sessions at Weston Water for free, under its acclaimed Sailfree programme, between March and October.

Now Freightlink, a company part-owned by club member Mark Stephens, has agreed to pay Hollybank’s corporate membership fee, which covers insurance, too.

Freightlink director and co-founder Mr Stephens, whose father Norman started off what would become the Sailfree initiative some 22 years ago, said: “We’re delighted to be supporting the Hollybank Trust and its membership of the Otley Sailing Club for 2013.

“I’ve seen for myself how adults and children benefit from learning to sail, the smile on their faces says it all.

“Otley Sailing Club has excellent facilities and expertise for people with disabilities, and I look forward to hearing all about Hollybank’s sailing next year.”

One young sailor who thoroughly enjoys his time in Otley is 22-year-old Ben Bradley, who lives in Poplars at Hollybank's main site in Mirfield.

His mother, Natalie Helm, said: “This photo (pictured) tells you exactly what Ben thinks of sailing – it’s a massively important activity for him. Sailing enriches all of their lives.”

Mr Stephens senior, a senior instructor at the club who has been sailing since 1968, said: “It's difficult to put into words why sailing is so wonderful for people with disabilities, but it gives them a sense of freedom and also a sense of adventure.

“They are in the middle of the lake with no engine, just the wind and the elements. Once they are in the boat with their carers it’s fantastic to watch. The faster they go, the more they like it.”

Enrichment project manager for Hollybank Trust, Stewart Geddes, said: “We are so grateful to the club for consistently giving our residents these opportunities to enjoy the freedom of the open water.

“They benefit in so many ways, including the physical highs of feeling the wind on their faces and the increased self-esteem and feeling of independence. We can’t wait for the sailing season to start again for us.”

A team of six Hollybank staff, meanwhile, have just completed powerboat training which means they, along with club volunteers, can help the Hollybank sailors when they are out on the water.

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