Pushing the boat out

Gabrielle Boase CMD is General Manager at Datchet Water Sailing Club in Berkshire. She’s already completed her MDP Parts 1 and 2 and Food & Beverage Management Course and is raring to get started on Level 3. Here she takes time out to share her experiences with Clubhouse Europe.

I’ve been running Datchet Water Sailing Club since 2003. I have two full-time members of staff and an admin person who works 20 hours a week. I’m also the Club Principal at the club which means I’m in charge of anything related to training on Health & Safety and Child Protection, as well as ensuring that the boats are all up to standard. At the very top of the club structure we have the Commodore, a Vice-Commodore, two Rear Commodores and a Treasurer. They make up the Flag Officers. Then we have up to nine Council Members on the board who support the Officers. Two of the Council Members are on the Management Team with me and we implement the club strategy. The other Council Members take on specific responsibilities such as Communications and Publicity.Gabrielle Boase

We also have 480 members who are rosterable for duties, which can be a Club Race Officer, Race Team and Safety Coxswains who run on-water activities or the Officer Of the Day who is officebased at weekends who will meet new members and assist where required. We hold major events here throughout the season where we’ll have over 300 boats coming into the club and it would all be impossible without the time and effort put in by our volunteer members. They’re at the club all day doing things like organising parking and the on-water team of the Race Officer, Race Team and Safety Coxswains ensure good,fair, safe racing.

It’s a real family club and you’ll see several generations of the same family coming down here regularly – from grandparents to grandchildren all delighted to be part of such a thriving club. We’re a Training Centre affiliated to the Royal Yachting Association (RYA) so part of the duties of our professional staff members is to train the volunteers in key aspects of sailing, most notably Water Safety, and help them get their qualifications. Of the 600 members, 120 are juniors who are working their way through the qualifications, and in September we’re running the Zone Squad Championships where the GB junior squads will be selected.

We’re very proud of the club which celebrated its 40th birthday last year. We marked this by running various activities including a ‘This Girl Can’ campaign with Sport England and Berkshire Council where we encouraged 40 female sailors – including me! – to learn to sail. It was a great success and was fantastic to see so many women getting involved in the sport for the first time. We also have an Open Weekend in May when anyone can come along and try out sailing in various boats or use the indoor simulator; that’s always a very popular event.

Datchet Sailing Club

Datchet Sailing Club

I’m actually an accountant by training. In 2000, I decided to take a career break for a couple of years to start a family and was heavily involved in the community as a volunteer, including being on the management board of the local youth and community centre. At the time I decided to go back to work the sailing club was looking for a Club Manager. Up until that point the club was completely run by volunteers and they realised that it wasn’t really working and that they needed someone with business skills. I had no sailing experience or particular interest in the sport but had the accountancy experience that they were seeking, so took over the role in 2003.

I first got involved with the CMAE when I attended MDP Level 1 in Bournemouth. At the time I was trying to decide whether to go in-house with catering or keep the franchise arrangement. It was a week-long course and gave some great insights into the subject. At the course in Dublin they even put us in a professional kitchen for a day which gave me a new respect for caterers as up until then I hadn’t realised the timescales of producing food in a commercial environment and the pressures they were under. I’ve now completed Parts 1 and 2 in MDP and the food and beverage course, plus the Club Management Diploma (CMDip).

It has been very interesting to see that different types of club still have plenty of common ground. A sailing club’s fee structure is totally different to that of a golf club yet all types of clubs need to deal with governance, health and safety, staff issues, service issues and so on.

My experience of the MDP has been massively positive. It’s wonderful to be part of a group of people who understand what it takes to run a club. Suddenly I was ‘amongst my own’ and sharing knowledge specific to the club sector. Working with members is a totally unique experience as you’re reporting to people who are part of the club because of their passion for sailing, golf or whatever the club’s main focus happens to be. It’s all about working with your members as a professional and channelling their passion in a way that benefits the club.

I have learned to so much from going to other clubs and seeing how they operate. I’ve then brought that knowledge back to my club for the benefit of our members, for example, by raising the standards of service and the facilities. A lot of the emphasis is on managing performance which is incredibly useful and I also really enjoyed learning presentation skills.

One thing which has surprised me about doing the courses is how delighted and proud my members are about my involvement with the CMAE. They can see that it’s benefiting the club hugely and that it’s helping to improve the club across the board. For example, over the past few years I’ve secured a £50,000 grant for a facilities upgrade plus £75,000 for our sustainable clubhouse project. We now have a solar panel system on the roof, we’ve insulated the whole of the building and installed a water-sourced heat pump system. It has resulted in a 40 per cent saving on our utilities costs.

It’s great to have such a gold standard for people working across the club sector as it means your members can be satisfied that you have attained a high level of professional accreditation. Plus, if you have a manager who’s weak in certain areas, you can send them on a course with the CMAE and you know that the level of the course is going to be superb. I will definitely be doing the Part 3 MDP!

Article published in Clubhouse Europe issue 10