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  • Writer's pictureTeam OTC

The Official Test Centre windsurfing towards better well-being for young people!

Why have we started The Windsurf School Projects at The Official Test Centre? The answer is simple when you witness the profound life-changing effect the sea has on the children we welcome to the centre, when you watch an anxious child that literally blooms when they start believing in themselves and healing with the therapeutic powers of the water it is truly emotive and powerful. The restorative effects of being among nature, the water literally washes away any stress or anxiety. Immersing the youngsters in the ocean water envelops them in an embrace that calms all the senses.

Let's look at the facts! In 2022 18% of children and young people aged 7 to 16 had a probable mental health disorder (Source NHS England). 1 in 6 children in the UK struggle with their social, emotional or mental health.

Here at The Official Test Centre (OTC), Portland, we are on a mission to change that struggle by offering therapy that’s a little bit different! In 2023 we introduced the Windsurf School Projects with the simple message of 'USING WINDSURFING TO HELP LOCAL SCHOOLS SUPPORT THE WELL-BEING OF YOUNG PEOPLE'.

We have welcomed Kerry Knight to Team OTC, who is the newly appointed, Windsurfing Schools Project Coordinator, thanks to Kerry's mission to make a difference the pebble has been dropped into the water and the ripple is reaching out to local school pupils who are having a life-changing experience with our well-being windsurfing.

By Emma Nicholson.

The tangible link between exercise and improved mental health.

Staying physically active can have positive effects on mental health. It can reduce stress, anxiety and other mental health issues, and increase self-esteem (Mental Health Foundation, 2021; NHS, 2019).

Encourage children and young people to build physical activity into their daily routines, from talking a daily walk to participating in extracurricular sports activities.

The amount and type of exercise available or appropriate will differ from child to child. Disabled children or children with injury or health conditions may be limited in the exercise they can do. There are other ways they can stay active, for example by helping with housework, playing interactive video games or gardening.

Explain that it’s important for your body to have time to rest as well as being physically active. Too much physical exertion may have a negative impact on a child’s physical health, which can affect children’s wellbeing.

"Six disadvantaged children have most definitely had the experience of a lifetime."

Some comments below from the primary school children who have taken part in The OTC Well-being Windsurfing.

“I love it here, I don’t want to go home. It makes me feel happy here, just being around the water makes me feel calm and I can just be myself.” AGED 10

“I don’t like PE at school, sometimes I don’t even like school and I shout and scream, I like windsurfing though and I’ll be here every week”. AGED 9

“Windsurfing make me feel like I’m a smiler and I can do it well”. AGED 10

“I’m going to ask my parents to bring me to windsurfing when it’s finished with the school. I love it, it’s the best sport I’ve ever tried and I think I’m getting really good at it”. AGED 10.

Conifer Primary School Teacher Mr Lyon, who accompanied the children during their sessions at The OTC, said: "This six week windsurfing experience has been nothing short of life changing for those who were fortunate enough to attend.

"To see how far they have all come in such a short space of time has been mind blowing. The confidence they have gained in the water has transferred to their confidence socially and their determination to succeed at a new skill will no doubt transfer to the classroom too.

"Their teamwork and communication skills have also greatly improved as a result of their 6 weeks of mega excitement (always reviewed as the highlight of their weeks on the bus back to school).

"Six disadvantaged children have most definitely had the experience of a lifetime, discovered a love for trying new skills and they have all had the opportunity to face and conquer fears. Indeed, for many of the Conifers participants it has felt like while learning to windsurf, they have found their 'Happy Place'.

"Thank you so much for allowing Conifers students to be a part of it and I truly hope if there are any future offerings we can be part of those as well."

A huge thank you and appreciation must be shown to the generous funding from The Chesil Trust, thanks to the Trust we were able to invite two primary schools for six weeks of well-being windsurfing, without this vital support we would not be able to make a difference, so thank you!

"I just love being in the water and I find it so relaxing, when I’m here I can just be nice and calm."

Feedback from Atlantic Academy, Portland one of the secondary schools that have benefited from some Well-being Windsurfing sessions at The OTC.

Six young people from Atlantic Academy have attended the Well-being course with The OTC, they are coming to the end of their six week course and the school shared the following feedback:

Atlantic Academy spokesperson, said: "The students who have attended the Well-being Programme are definitely becoming more confident, we have noticed improved communication at school and teamwork skills.

"The students are noticeably happier around school and keen to share their experiences. They are always enthusiastic about attending the sessions. I've recently had an email from a parent saying what a benefit it has been for their child and how inspiring they were finding it even when windsurfing in torrential rain." Feedback from an Atlantic Academy student: “I love coming to this group, I just love being in the water and I find it so relaxing, when I’m here I can just be nice and calm”.

Feedback from another Atlantic Academy student: “ School is quite difficult for me, I find the learning quite hard. I think I’ve got quite good at windsurfing, I listen carefully to what the instructors tell me and I can do it, it makes me feel relaxed and very happy and that I am confident”. Kerry Knight, The OTC Windsurfing Schools Project Coordinator, said: "Some students arrive at their session telling me that they’ve not had a great day, sometimes they talk about feeling lonely, experiencing friendship issues, the pressures of social media and how difficult it can be just being a teenager. You can see the their mood lifts as soon as they hit the water, they are desperate to just run and jump in. I am absolutely certain that the water works wonders, as I watch their worries melt away and see these youngsters laughing, having fun and just being themselves."

As always, we must pay a heartfelt mention and thanks to the inspirational organisations that make these opportunities possible, thanks to the generous funding from The Will Mackaness Trust, RYA and Sport England for funding the well-being windsurfing sessions, you are all changing lives and we can't thank you enough!

"This six week windsurfing experience has been nothing short of life changing for those who were fortunate enough to attend."

The healing powers of the sea.

By merging the therapeutic elements of being outdoors and around water, with the adventure of windsurfing. Our dedicated instructors are a highly skilled team of people who support a culture of acceptance. We help local children and young people achieve things that they never thought possible.

With the kind and generous support from The Will Mackaness Trust (WMT), Royal Yachting Association (RYA) together fund and Chesil Trust we will deliver our Well-being Program to 63 children and young people from local Weymouth & Portland schools this year, 2023.

Kerry said: "Each week we not only teach our students to windsurf but, we cover the topics below. We begin every session with a wellbeing check in and end with a wellbeing check out. "We know that every young person’s journey is unique and this is why each student get the individual support that they need throughout their time with us to achieve their goals."

The young people who take part in the Well-Being Windsurfing sessions will leave with; IMPROVED CONFIDENCE BETTER COMMUNICATION SKILLS HIGHER SELF-ESTEEM IMPROVED RESILIENCE SENSE OF BELONGING FEELING CALMER Kerry said: "We know that spending time outdoors by the water inspires students to be curious about their surroundings. The water activities we offer allow students to seek, play and trust. This helps them to improve wellbeing and can draw them out of negative emotional states.

"Our Royal Yachting Association (RYA) qualified Instructors provide a safe haven for children and young people to express themselves both physically and emotionally. "At The OTC, we feel privileged to use windsurfing as an intervention to help children and young people in our communities. Our highly qualified teams support every aspect of the young person’s journey and are always on hand to share their enthusiasm and passion for the sports and the environment that it is taught in."

"It has felt like while learning to windsurf, they have found their 'Happy Place'."

Why is water based therapy so beneficial? Using water based activities provides a range of experience that naturally helps calm sensory distress and creates periods/windows of tolerance leading to increased resilience. This starts with the wearing of a wet suit that provides something akin to deep pressure followed by being on and in the water that helps regulate both vestibular and proprioceptive senses. Stretch, impact and rhythm are all known to help release tension and trauma from the body, all of these things exist in the water based activities and when combined, with the other elements previously described, provide unique opportunities for increasing resilience, healing trauma and supporting the personal growth of some of our most vulnerable individuals. Kerry said: "Hearing words of encouragement and ‘trust me’ statements from others become just another lie that can not be relied upon however, working with water based interventions and developing relationships without words, in terms of exploring our relationship with water as a metaphor, provide incredible possibilities to begin to understand self and others."

"School is quite difficult for me, I find the learning quite hard. I think I’ve got quite good at windsurfing."

The OTC team are fully trained. Kerry said: "We are extremely grateful to TAG Trauma Action Group who are delivering training and supporting our Team in addition to this, members of our team took time over the winter to complete a course in supporting Children and Young Peoples mental health."

The OTC Team supporting children's activities are undertaking learning with the TAG Trauma Action Group. This started in March with a virtual workshop by TAG Trauma Director Tony France* to enhance understanding of children and young people and the importance of looking behind their behaviours. This included insights into neurodevelopment and the impact of trauma and adverse childhood experiences, plus practical strategies for calming and connection and creating an environment where children feel safe. The OTC Team will next undertake TAG's comprehensive Children and Trauma eLearning, with plans for a follow up TAG workshop this Summer.

"The students who have attended the Well-being Programme are definitely becoming more confident."

The support will continue...

Children and young people who have attended our Well-being Program are often keen to continue with the sport. We are pleased to be able to offer all students who have completed the Well-being Program, further funded sessions in our Team 15 windsurf clubs. This club runs after school and offers a wide scope for our local young people to progress their skills which could take then down the instructor pathways, the racing pathway or simply having access to a sporting outlet for enjoyment and spending time with our Instructors who continue to support them on their well-being journey.

Kerry Knight, said: "These kids are just amazing and I will miss them when they leave us.

From being hugely anxious around water and taking on a new challenge to this….. all able to windsurf, all happy to be in the water."

Windsurf school projects at The OTC are always looking for new partners to assist in making our programs available to more children and young people. If you would like to be involved in changing young lives, we’d love to hear from you, email;


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