Who are Oarsome Chance, Dream Yacht Charter UK’s official charity partner?

08th Nov 2018
Oarsome Chance

Back in September, Dream Yacht Charter announced their new partnership with the Oarsome Chance charity, a Hampshire based not-for-profit organisation focused on helping young individuals generate a bright future.

Here, Oarsome Chance Principal, John Gillard, tells us a little bit about this wonderful charity and how it helps these individuals achieve some truly amazing goals.

John, tell us about Oarsome Chance…

Oarsome Chance is a charitable trust which dedicates its time to helping children and young adults, who have, for whatever reason, not engaged in traditional mainstream education. We do this by providing apprenticeships and developing programmes to benefit future employment prospects through practical, vocational education and sport.

The charity was founded in 2015 and was the brainchild of our founder and chairman of the Trust, Paul O’Grady. As a teenager he had fallen on the wrong side of the law and was sent to a naval training school called HMS Conway which, by his own admission, was the making of him. Since then Paul has been a lifelong entrepreneur, starting and running businesses for nearly all his working life, so far, to great success.

On selling a company in 2014, Paul and his wife Emma amassed an extra large sum of money they had not originally reckoned on and they felt it was their time to increase their charitable spending and pay forward some of their own learning and good fortune on a topic close to their hearts, namely the vocational and practical educational development of young people. And there, Oarsome Chance was born!

Where are you based and what geographical areas do you work in?

Oarsome Chance has two bases with a catchment area of the whole of Hampshire. Our original base is in Leigh Park, a 27,000-person council estate built post-1945 to provide homes for those who had lost theirs during World War II. It was, at one time, Europe’s largest wholly owned council estate. It is now a haven for crime, drugs and antisocial behaviour with high unemployment and low aspirations, making it a challenging but rewarding area for us to work in.

In the workshop

Due to high demand and expansion of our programmes, we were lucky enough to find the nearly perfect location for our second base in September of 2017. The purpose-made boatbuilding shed in the grounds of St Vincent College in Gosport is right next to the tidal waters of Portsmouth Harbour. Other than increasing our catchment and capacity enormously, this has given us the space to build our new skiff, the OC24 and also gives us the ability to run multi-activities with the students throughout the school day without going off-site.

How do you work with young people?

The young people we work with are generally referred to us from specialist schools or government agencies. They generally come with a fairly chequered background, quite often born from a poor home life, and often have Autism, Asperger’s, ADHD and attachment disorders. For one reason or another, traditional schooling has sadly not worked for them. Initially, we focus on pastoral care, building trust between them, us and the Oarsome Chance project whilst putting them at ease regarding our expectations of them and what they can expect from us.

We then work alongside them, giving the students skills and training as a route to employability in a workshop environment, focusing on vocational skills and qualification-driven sessions in boatbuilding, carpentry and marine engineering. 80% of the students’ work is practical, hands-on learning with a purpose and end goal, such as building a boat, so they and others can learn to sail and row. Together we have built six boats so far with seven and eight on the go at the moment. We’re also thrilled to announce that number nine is in its planning stages!

What are some of the challenges faced by the children you work with and how does Oarsome Chance help them to deal with these?

Most of the fantastic young people we work with have not found their lot in life yet. Almost all of them know, including parents, people and the agencies supporting them, that through trial and error, a traditional school setting is not it. Learning difficulties, anxiety and mental health issues are just some of the triggers for them not engaging in a classroom setting. If not addressed early, these conditions can manifest themselves as poor behaviour, aggression or withdrawal, where the kids feel quite isolated, often feeling they are square pegs trying to be squeezed into a round hole.

Learning in the workshop

Oarsome Chance has the freedom, tools and ability to bring out the best in the students we work with. Our settings definitely do not look like classrooms and the only opportunities the students actually have to sit down are on a rowing machine, a boat or at tea break, when, having been on their feet expending lots of energy physically, they look forward to taking the weight off for 15 minutes. We give them tasks suitable for their level, or just above, and give them time to achieve their goal. We then celebrate their successes together.

Why do you think rowing and being on and around the water is such a good thing for kids?

The water is a calming influence for young people with adverse learning and behavioural traits. It helps focus on the immediate, such as being in the boat and surrounded by the environment.

“It’s unknown and exciting and allows them to throw away the virtual shackles of the land and reinvent themselves at sea.”

In addition, rowing gives a low impact core workout, requiring individual effort as well as teamwork and leadership to succeed and shows them that the fruits of their labours in the workshop have a reward that they can use and share on the water.

It also gives the instructor a captive audience and, as with the workshop, the students learn by doing, which we term “learning by stealth”. They absorb so much in a session, mostly by necessity, to get them from A to B efficiently and keep themselves and others safe and comfortable.

Tell us about some of the construction projects you undertake?

So far, we have built five 23ft rowing skiffs of the St Ayles class, taking around 39 weeks per boat to build and involving students at all stages. From the construction of the strong back frame involving measuring, dimensions and symmetry to levelling and bracing. Onto this 3D frame comes planning and preparation for planking, as all our boats are wooden construction currently, working from line drawings and CAD design.

We have recently had our own purpose made 24ft skiff designed for us called the OC24 which is in the early stages of the build and will eventually replace our fleet of the St Ayles skiffs. We are also in partnership with the Practical Boat Owner Magazine, where we are building a secret 20 gaff rigged daysailer which will give our students more practical tasks and a greater depth of learning during the build. It will be followed closely by the magazine’s 30,000+ readers so, hopefully, the students will do an excellent job on that one!

What about the Canvas Works initiative?

With this area of our work, we upcycle sails, canvas and covers etc from famous, interesting, unique and popular vessels such as Alex Thomson’s Hugo Boss yacht or the 1913 Le Havre pilot cutter, Jolie Brise. We create new and bespoke products for resale such as bags, wallets, wash bags, pencil cases and much more. This is a fusion of need for sensible disposal by Alex’s team and the desire by our students to design and create items made from amazing materials with fascinating histories.

Canvas making

This is our latest initiative and has really gripped the young people. We use donated industrial sewing machines and it is a true social enterprise whereby the students learn to manage their time, PR and marketing. They learn profit and loss, accounting structures and all manner of skills required to run any small business. The products are sold and the revenue goes back into our charitable work.

Are there any success stories you can share about current or past participants in the schemes you run?

We have recently taken on one of our longstanding students as boatbuilding apprentice. He has started full time with us and is taking part in block release to college to achieve his HND. Over the next four years, he will work with us building boats, maintaining our fleet and mentoring the next generation of students, showing them first hand that they can have a brighter future. We are also taking a second of our ex-students onto a marine engineering apprenticeship in January 2019 and he is already getting to grips with servicing and repairs of our outboards and all things engineering.

For better or worse, our service is in very high demand. We have never marketed Oarsome Chance and our reputation for success has come through word of mouth, daily successes with fantastic engagement and feedback from students, parents and schools.

Dream Yacht Charter General Manager Andy Byham said, “This initiative does fantastic work and we are very proud to support them and they work that they do.”

If you would like to get involved and support Oarsome Chance, visit www.oarsomechance.org or you can donate here.