Winds of change blow for tall ships charity

For 41 years, the Jubilee Sailing Trust has provided life changing experiences for thousands of people with disabilities and other voyagers in its two specially-constructed tall ships. Thanks to the charity’s work, disabled and non-disabled people have sailed alongside each other, on the world’s different oceans, breaking down prejudices and misunderstandings between different social groups.

However, the last few years have seen turbulent waters for the charity and, in June, a £1 million emergency fundraising appeal was needed to keep the charity afloat. Now the charity has revealed major new plans to secure its future.

For decades, the tall ships Lord Nelson and Tenacious have ploughed the world’s oceans.

What makes these remarkable ships even more special is the fact they were designed and constructed for crews which can include people with a wide variety of physical impairments and health conditions.

To name but a few, the adaptations include everything from a speaking compass which allows the visually-impaired to navigate them, power assisted joystick steering for people with limited dexterity, and unique ascender systems which allow wheelchair users to experience ‘life aloft’ up the ship’s masts.

The voyages can be anything from a day off the Norfolk coast, to journeys of thousands of nautical mile in the Southern Ocean passages from New Zealand around Cape Horn, or trips in the Polar regions.

The value of the Jubilee Sailing Trusts’ work over such a long period cannot be underestimated, nor sadly, can the difficulties in running such endeavours.

In 2018 the Trust endured a “perfect storm” of misfortunes. Emergency repairs had to be conducted on both ships, it had poor uptake on its winter programmes and delays in partnership projects all badly affected its income. Coming on the end of a number of years of financial struggle, breaking point had been reached

In June 2019, it was forced to launch an emergency appeal to raise £1 million to keep the charity afloat. It is indicative of the value of the charity’s work, and the affection in which it is held, that the money was raised within a week.

 Sweeping changes ahead

Now the charity has revealed sweeping changes to ensure its long-term survival, and to make sure it can continue to help as many people as possible.

The headline change is the decommissioning of one of its ships, STS Lord Nelson, with the long-term plan to use it instead as a visitor attraction to tell the Jubilee Sailing Trust story and support fundraising.

“Inevitably there has been a mixed response,” admitted the charity’s Chief Executive Duncan Souster. “The popularity and history of the ship means the decision has been met with sadness but unfortunately, this is the only way we can move the charity forward on a secure footing.

“For many years we have been taking steps to increase core income and carrying out proactive maintenance for both ships and trying to build up the charity’s cash reserves. However, due to the age of both ships and numerous changes in legislation, we have continuously had to be reactive when problems have arisen and have been left very vulnerable to circumstance which makes it difficult to run our operations.

“When the charity was founded there were very few opportunities for disabled people of the kind we offer. Thankfully, over the years, while our ships are still unique, other adventure and outdoor opportunities for disabled people have substantially increased. Whilst we still remain one of the only environments in which disabled and non-disabled people can participate equally, that has also meant it is a much more competitive marketplace for us to raise funds in, and people’s expectations have also been heightened.”

Mr Souster said in decommissioning STS Lord Nelson, Jubilee Sailing Trust can immediately reduce costs substantially, both in terms of ship maintenance, and the onshore and offshore organisational costs of running two ships.

“We will be able to save substantial amounts in management, crewing and administrative costs,” he added.

“Having one ship will also ensure that it is full of people who will get the most benefit from it. It is better to run one ship full, year round, with the most deserving beneficiaries than to struggle filling both vessels. A full ship provides our beneficiaries with the fullest, most powerful experience.”

 Strategic partnerships

The charity is also looking to move more heavily into mission-relevant strategic partnerships with other charities, educators and businesses.

For example, it recently ran a series of voyages round the UK with a national bank where its staff participated, and the bank funded the places of the disabled participants. This allowed the bank to meet its community assistance and staff development goals while, at the same time, helping others who might not have the funds to participate.

Jubilee Sailing Trust is also looking to modernise its international marketing and online presence to increase awareness of the charity and its work.

Mr Souster said: “It is too easy to see decommissioning STS Lord Nelson as a retrograde step. However, the charity cannot help anyone if we are lurching from one financial crisis to the next and operating under circumstances which continually put our very survival at threat.

“Our supporters have done an amazing job for so many years in literally, keeping us afloat, and this proposal is the best way forward in ensuring the charity continues to offer positive lifechanging experiences for people who otherwise would never experience such adventures.

“Over the past 40 years, we have taken nearly 50,000 people to sea and our work has been accredited by the UN Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities for its work within this community.

He concluded: “These changes will ensure we can continue to offer life-changing experiences long into the future.”