Dear SWAN Trust,
On September 16 2010 we were fortunate enough to book two short trips on the SWAN, out of Aberdeen harbour. I work in some of the most impoverished areas of Aberdeen, areas which understandably have very high occurrences of poor mental health within their populations. As a result, we look to provide learning opportunities, but always with one eye on the enjoyment factor: if you don't enjoy your learning, well, there seems little point in undertaking it?
It would not be hard to find twenty people willing to go sailing, even though the weather forecast had mentioned force eight gales. The potential "sailors" we were looking for however were the most in need of the experience, those whose confidence needed building and those who suffered from poor mental health.
As a result we had to persuade several that they would get something out of this trip and after much coaxing and perhaps a little "arm-twisting", had to take place.
Obviously the trips were a tremendous success, we forced the groups to work, to communicate, to lend a hand and to embrace the challenge. Your crew were excellent and did everything we required of them and more: they were a real credit to your trust. Let me make this quite clear to you, the majority of those who came with us are under care from healthcare professionals and, in certain cases, have severe and debilitating mental illnesses. As I sit here now, just feet from my office door is a four foot collage of the day we had, a series of photographs messily glued on to a piece of paper and hung on the wall.
There are more smiling faces on that piece of paper than could have been gleaned from a dozen confidence building courses. The collage is also an excellent way to engage with new learners and encourage conversation.
I've always liked to use boats as a way to engage with those suffering from poor mental health and your beautiful ship played its part superbly. I'm sure you get plenty of "thank you" e-mails and letters, but I just reckoned you could always do with one more. "That was the best thing I have ever done", said one "sailor", I haven't had a conversation in twenty years" (by a lady who had five people hanging off her every word, as she sat on deck handing out teas, and who previously could not make eye-contact with others), "I loved every minute" (by another lady, who until the final twenty minutes had clung grimly to the mast). This was a fabulous experience for all concerned, and now pressure is on me to do more . . . fantastic.
I'm aware that funding for such projects is always a difficult business, and am further aware that those not actually crewing the ship might not understand the full benefits of an enterprise such as your own. If there is anything we can do, to provide you with evidence of the successes of your trips for example, please don't hesitate to contact me.
Thanks to all concerned
Community Learning Worker
Northfield Community Centre