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On Wednesday 23rd November 2011,   HRH Princess Anne presented our Commodore from 2009 to 2011, Mark Burkitt, with a RYA Volunteer Award for  his Outstanding Contribution to boating. (Click here for the RYA Awards Booklet)


His nomination from the Management Committee of Ulley Sailing Club read as follows:

How has the nominee directly influenced the club? 

Mark was elected to the position of Vice Commodore in November 2006, just 6 months before the devastating floods of 2007 threatened to breach the dam of the reservoir on which we sail.  The club was faced with a great deal of uncertainty and disruption over the next 4 years until repairs to the dam were completed.  The reservoir was finally filled in December 2010, when the club could properly return to sailing on its own water (though for another month that water was ice!).

Following his election as Commodore in 2008 Mark worked hard to keep the club together, leading the rest of a very loyal Committee by example.  Since the return to our own water and club house, he has striven (entirely voluntarily) in every direction to ensure the successful relaunch of the club.  Having qualified as an RYA sailing instructor (encouraging 2 other club members to do so also) during our disrupted period, he was central to the Club’s offer of half-day Sailing Experiences at the Gala reopening of Ulley Country Park, staffed by himself and other volunteers at very modest cost.  This and other of his personal initiatives, including weekly winter desk top training, has contributed to attracting some 20 new club memberships (mainly families and young people, with a good proportion of women to men) from 2010 to date.  As a small inland venue, with a current boat park capacity of fewer than 60 boats, this represents some quarter to a third of our membership, which now stands at more than 70 against our development plan target of 90 memberships (the capacity of our facilities and small water).  We are confident that target will soon be met after a very successful two Open days on the May Day 2011 weekend.  This very successful event, spearheaded by Mark, attracted more than 200 visitors, and saw many people from every background and age group trying a free sailing taster in heavy winds.  (Mark had also used his professional expertise to prepare necessary risk assessments for the club!)  Twenty of them quickly signed up for a subsequent half-day sailing experience during the next month, offered voluntarily mainly by Mark, and there is a waiting list of similar numbers which we shall endeavour to accommodate in additional sessions.  Mark’s entirely voluntary offering of Sailing Experiences will have added some £500 to club funds this year (as well as the considerable added value for those participating) which should help us towards our immediate aim of extending our boat park so we can accommodate more members.

Mark arranged that he and the Club’s other Enterprise sailors would race with novice crews in our 2011 Brass Monkey series.  Despite ice and strong winds, some 16 boats competed in the inclement weather.  In March, all efforts turned to re-fencing our boat park, leased from Rotherham MBC and now made urgent by the theft of one of our safety boats.  This major endeavour, facilitated by Mark, was completed with much good nature and a lot of hard work by club volunteers, who – including Mark’s family - even ended up competing with each other to feed the gang at their own expense. 

Despite all this activity within the Club, on top of a responsible job, Mark has also found time to attend many RYA regional conferences and events as our Club representative and key contact.  Suzie Blair (RDO North East and Yorkshire) reports that he always comes with a positive approach to developing both his personal skills/knowledge and helping to advance the Club’s activities. 

The new season started on 2nd April and the Club is absolutely buzzing with activity.  Some 50 members have already taken to the water, mainly in racing, over the past few weeks, with average weekend turnouts well into double figures.  As well as the Sailing Experiences aimed at attracting new members, Mark is also entirely voluntarily offering safety boat and sail/race training to club members on one Saturday each month.

Against a background of static and declining membership and activity at other much larger clubs, we regard the contribution of Ulley Sailing Club to British sailing – including Olympic, World Champion and national champions – and to local community development as exceptional and are proud that Mark, together with his committed family, have helped us uphold that tradition through 5 very challenging, but ultimately rewarding years.

What is so special about the nominee’s contribution or achievements?

We believe that Mark has been central to ensuring that Ulley Sailing Club emerged renewed from a unique set of circumstances.  We are not aware of any other sailing club that has had to face 4 years of disruption and emerged the stronger from it.  Now sailing in its 40th season, the club is more vibrant than in my and most other members’ experience of it. 

Mark is not from a privileged sailing background but from a modest Rotherham home and only began sailing when he came across an old Enterprise to do up.  He (and his family’s) friendly, humourous, down-to-earth manner has really helped to attract new members from all sorts of backgrounds, in keeping with the Club’s mission of making the sport of sailing affordable and accessible to all.  He has led by example and inspired the Committee and membership into playing their part in a great deal of voluntary effort, from refurbishing the club galley, to refencing the boat park and giving up their Bank Holidays to run Open Days.  Mark has been the absolute lynchpin of our new sailing and safety boat training programme, offering his services with no charge.  He (and his wife) rarely miss an opportunity to race their Enterprise, regardless of the results, and have frequently offered the use of their boat for the Club’s regular participation in the WLYC 24 hour race, for which they normally organise the team.  Mark and his family devote most of their spare time to the Club (even at the expense of their new bathroom - still an ongoing project!) and have shown absolute loyalty and commitment through some very difficult and some very successful years. 

Is there anything else you would like us to know about, or consider regarding this nomination?

We would like to acknowledge the invariably cheerful support and assistance of Mark’s wife Linda and their children Rachel and Will.

Supporting letters for the nomination were provided by Steve Butler (as a long-time committee member) and Chris Hartley (as a very new member).