Sailing Trust for the disabled with Royal backing needs £1M to stay afloat

Tall Ship

A sailing charity backed by the Duke of York has issued an emergency appeal to raise £1 million in a week to save it from closure.

The Jubilee Sailing Trust (JST) takes people who are disabled or disadvantaged on trips aboard two purpose-built tall ships.

The charity said that the emergency call for cash was necessary after mechanical problems with both its ships “wiped out” its modest reserves. It also blamed lower than expected demand for trips over the winter and the deferral of several bookings scheduled for the summer.

However, the charity’s plight raises questions about the way it has been run. Its most recent annual report showed that the trust spent £5 million last year against an income of £3.8 million and revealed that the charity did not have significant freely available reserves to cover any further problems.

The trust, based in Southampton, was founded in 1978 with a grant from a fund raised during the celebrations of the Queen’s silver jubilee the previous year. The Duke of York has been the trust’s patron for the past 35 years. Its ships, Lord Nelson and Tenacious, are the only tall ships in the world designed and built to be sailed by crew members with disabilities. They have wheelchair lifts, a speaking compass for visually impaired navigators, signs in braille and ascender systems that enable sailors in wheelchairs to be hoisted aloft.

Sailing trust

Over 41 years of operation the charity has taken almost 50,000 people sailing on trips that range from a day at sea, or coastal voyages of several days to ocean crossings that last six weeks.

Sailing trips can be arranged by charities, schools, businesses or public-sector bodies and are open to paying members of the public, with bursaries available for people who are disabled or on a low income.

After celebrating its 40th anniversary last year the trust had been looking into expanding its overseas operations. After a £2.3 million refinancing arrangement to pay off a bank loan on Tenacious, however, the trust was hit by a £700,000 bill for emergency engineering works on the ship on her return from a voyage to the South Pacific. There was further disruption after several key staff left, a note from the trustees to supporters said.

The annual report, published in March last year, said that its modest reserves had been “wiped out” by the unplanned engineering work and its auditor reported a “material uncertainty” that cast significant doubt on the trust’s ability to continue.

The trustees said that their objective was to build a cash reserve of £1 million, equivalent to three months’ operating cash.

They mounted an initial emergency fundraising appeal between October last year and March, generating £810,000 in donations and income-free loans and there was a further boost as £252,000 of debt was written off. The charity cut its head office costs by £360,000 and sought to raise more money from wealthy supporters and partner organisations.

A slump in bookings over the winter was, however, followed by a further drop in income at the start of the new financial year as several organisations deferred booking sailings until next year.

In a letter to supporters explaining the £1 million target, the trustees said that if they could not meet it, “then it is likely the JST’s activities will cease immediately, unless the trustees can find another viable solution to our funding situation which allows us to continue operating responsibly”.

Duncan Souster, chief executive of the Jubilee Sailing Trust, said: “Our work is transformative and life-changing for the thousands of people who sail with us. It is so important it continues for the benefit of generations to come.”

By last night 669 supporters had offered £254,833. The £1 million target has to be reached by Friday.

Main photo by Jamie Morrison on Unsplash