Earlier this year The Hunts Post and Cambridgeshire Community Foundation donated £1,000 to Grafham Sailability to help with the fantastic work that goes on at Perry. Last week ANDY VEALE went to see how the money has been spent and meet the people behind a very special group.
JUDI Figgures is a remarkable woman.
Sixty-something years young, a national sailing champion, an avid competitor in regattas across the country (and abroad), a member of, and instructor to, the British Paralympics team and the driving force behind Grafham Water Sailability.
Judi, uses a wheelchair because of a spinal injury and MS, has an infectious energy, and a passion for sailing that can infuse most landlubbers.
It is no wonder that she is one of the main reasons the Sailability charity exists, and continues to flourish under the control of a dedicated bunch of enthusiastic volunteers.
The group provides sailing instruction for people with disabilities, giving them the expertise they need to take to the water on their own, as well as providing a safe environment for some spray-soaked fun for children with a range of disabilities, some severe.
The two sides to Sailability are very different - many of the sailing members compete in races - taking great satisfaction from beating able-bodied sailors - while many of the children are given a thrilling, grin-inducing, ride on the water.
The club started small and was based for years from the boot of Judi's car while the boat was stored - courtesy of Cambridgeshire County Council - at Grafham Water Centre in Perry.
"I came back to live in the UK in 1991 and discovered that disabled people in the UK sail," said Judi. "After three days of making phone calls I drove down to Stevenage and went out in a Challenger and felt 'that's it, I'm not shore-bound any longer'."
But the Stevenage lake a mere "puddle" compared to Grafham Water, and Judi's eyes were set on creating a place for disabled people to sail on the reservoir.
Judi not only achieved a new life for herself, but has also helped build new lives for many others.
In 1994, the first Sailability boat, adapted for use for people with disabilities, was secured, and word got around - people wanted to sail, to get out onto the water and then compare notes over a cup of coffee and a doughnut served from the back of Judi's car.
The major leap forward for Sailability, says Judi, came with the help of the area's Rotary clubs. The Rotary Club of Huntingdon helped secure a 'cabin' for the group, a real base, and other Rotarians have helped with fundraising for new boats - the group now has 12 Challengers - and provides at least three volunteers to help every Thursday.
"I can't believe the kind of people I have working here," said Judi. "Every year I give them a 100 per cent pay rise, which means they still get nothing."
Among the volunteers are the people who help make the group tick for the 40-odd members and the same number of associate members.
Bob Bellamy, from Grafham, the group's treasurer, said the group needs about £6,000 a year in running costs alone. Money to replace equipment has to be found elsewhere - a boat is about £7,500 and life jackets are costly.
Bob had just taken hold of a £270 donation from the Rotary Club of Thrapston and Raunds, money donated at the funeral of one of its members.
He said the £1,000 from The Hunts Post had paid for some smart new buoyancy jackets, which the group managed to secure at cost from a generous firm called Gill.
These jackets ensure the avid sailors and the children from groups such as the Upside Down Club can continue to get their freedom and thrills out on Grafham Water.
INFORMATION: Grafham Water Sailability meets on Thursday afternoons at the Grafham Water Centre at Perry. Its regatta is on June 6 and 7. For more information, or to make a donation, e-mail firstname.lastname@example.org
Hunts Post, 9th May 2009