We have worked with students and volunteer teachers from the Brighton-based Migrant English Project (MEP) since 2013, taking people out on short sailing trips from Chichester harbour and Brighton marina. The aim was to offer positive experiences for refugees, asylum seekers and migrants, some of the most marginalised members of society. We know that sailing can be a combination of relaxation, enjoyment of the marine environment, exercise, and development of people group working skills.
Some older students have experienced more of a tour of the harbour, while those who are keen and able have got stuck into learning some sailing. The language is less of a challenge than expected as students translate amongst themselves and the learning is very practical and hands on.
Initially we took out a volunteer teacher and up to four students at a time. By working with relatively small groups we can give attention to each individual. One of the MEP students has gone on to become a permanent volunteer with us and he now acts as First Mate on our MEP sails.
There has been lots of laughter and even singing on the trips, much to the amusement and even consternation of lock keepers, harbour master and passing fishing boats. As the faces you usually see on the water in the harbour are mainly white it’s good to bring some ethnic diversity to the area. By working with relatively small groups we can give attention to each person. The extra time we have spent with people on these trips has given some opportunities for people to open up a bit more, relax and share some of their stories. We’ve had people who left coastal communities, to escape war, persecution or simply seek a better life, and it has been great to offer them that connection again.
Thanks to the Co-operative Membership Community Fund and the Homity Trust who have both supported this work over the years.