Jubilee Sailing Trust CEO: ‘Keeping morale high has been at the forefront’

Patrick Fleming, CEO of the Jubilee Sailing Trust talks to Charity Times senior writer Melissa Moody about the challenges of supporting the disabled and taking to the seas in the midst of a pandemic.

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Melissa: What have been the biggest challenges for the trust over the last 18 months?

Patrick: Taking the decision to halt sailings in the spring of 2020, when the full scale of the Covid-19 crisis became apparent, was gut-wrenching. Upper-most in our minds was the impact we knew this would have on our wonderful volunteers, permanent crew and staff but also all those people we could have been supporting as our guests.

It is one of the cruel ironies of this terrible virus that its effects have impacted most on the vulnerable, the isolated and the lonely; the very people JST has been able to reach out to in the past, providing them with often life-changing experiences.

But we were determined that we would not only survive the pandemic – something that was never in doubt as far as we were concerned – but return even stronger as soon as we could.

Melissa: Have there been any positives to come out of the pandemic?

Patrick: We were founded with a simple mission to make sailing accessible to everyone, regardless of ability and background, so we fully understand the terrible toll the current health crisis has taken on the isolated and lonely, many of them disabled.

During the many months when our tall ship SV Tenacious – believed to be the only ship of its kind purposely designed to allow people of all physical abilities to sail side-by-side on equal terms – was out of action we have of course been ensuring she has been maintained in peak condition. I can’t praise enough the team at JST, the permanent crew and staff as well as the dedicated volunteers that are our lifeblood for their strength and fortitude during this time. They have been magnificent.

As with any time of challenge there are opportunities if you are prepared to look for them and grasp the moment. One such opportunity for us has been our new-found relationship with the Royal Navy during the pandemic. While we couldn’t crew the ship with our usual guests, we were able to take on a training role with the Royal Navy, providing a unique experience for its officers and recruits.

We had the Navy lads and lasses experiencing full life on board, from setting sails to washing dishes. It was a new experience for all of us at JST as well as the Navy’s young recruits with many firsts for all concerned - including discovering the fact the lads’ enthusiastic use of Lynx bodyspray sets off Tenacious’s fire alarms!

In May of this year we made the decision to create a permanent virtual office for JST, something that has been welcomed by the team.

During the crisis we have also been able to forge new connections, including a partnership with the Maritime Archaeology Sea Trust (MAST). Through this innovative partnership both our organisations aim to achieve a greater awareness of maritime cultural heritage both above and below the oceans.

Both MAST and JST are committed to supporting the United Nations’ Decade of Ocean Science for Sustainable Development which starts this year and continues until 2030. Our new Chair of Trustees Charles Humpleby, who was appointed this year, and I are exceptionally passionate about the role JST can play in raising awareness of ocean conservation.

Melissa: How have you been keeping staff motivated?

Patrick: Keeping morale high and the team motivated has been at the forefront of everything we have done during this period, but to be frank they are such a wonderful, self-motivated bunch that this was hardly the issue. You see, motivation is key to the JST experience, it’s what makes a voyage on Tenacious so unique. So many of our past guests of all abilities report how they found themselves overcoming challenges and finding new purpose while sailing with us.

Everyone is encouraged to see themselves as an equal part of the crew where their involvement is crucial to the success of the voyage. That spirit of determination and motivation is contagious. It is why we have been able to welcome more than 50,000 people on board since we were founded in 1978.

Melissa: What does the future look like for JST?

Patrick: Financially we are reliant on donations and grants from the public and also charitable trusts. I am so grateful for the generosity and support of so many both during this pandemic but also in general. Without such support we would not be able to provide the unique life-changing experiences and opportunities we can offer.

Looking to the future, JST will continue I am certain to forge ties with businesses, organisations and other charities. In the past we have been honoured to have been associated with some of the biggest names in commerce: Allianz, Barclays, Cummins, Global Marine, and HSBC.
We have also worked with a wide range of schools, colleges and universities, providing unique opportunities for students. I’m certain that these links will continue.

One of the growing areas of focus for us has been the ability to reach out to organisations and companies as well as individuals to provide leadership experiences quite unlike any other. Put simply, a voyage on Tenacious can teach the leaders of tomorrow more about inclusivity, motivation and morale than any number of raft-building exercises or paintball experiences. We have had great success in this area and our recent announcement that we have teamed up with Lifetree Global providing the setting for their Lifetree Ocean Regeneration Lab programme next year underscores this and our conservation credentials.

But most importantly we are thrilled to be back on the ocean again providing our life-changing voyages for our guests. This year has seen us return to sailing in UK waters as well as visiting Dublin and the Channel Islands.In the future we aim to return to offering sailings as far afield as the Caribbean, the Mediterranean and North Africa.

On the world stage the JST remains truly unique. Post pandemic we know there is a greater need than ever for our work and the difference we make. We have a unique mission, to give people of mixed abilities and circumstances the freedom to explore their ability, potential and place in the world.

Looking back, I believe that the fact JST faces the unpredictable challenges the oceans can throw at us each and every day placed us in a good mindset to weather this particular storm. It hasn’t been easy, but I’m confident more than ever that the future, if not plain sailing, will be into open waters with new exciting challenges to encounter.

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