A not-so-brief History of the North London Sailing Association and its Sailing Centre at Brightlingsea and the formation of the North London Youth Sailing Trust

Banbury Reservoir 

The NLSA first started here in Walthamstow, London in 1972 and was formally established on 5th February 1973, but some members may be surprised to know that at that time it was associated not with the Borough of Hackney but with Hackney’s next-door neighbour to the north, Haringey.

Other differences were that it was based not in Stoke Newington but at Banbury Reservoir, operated by the Lee Valley Park Authority on the North Circular Road at Walthamstow; and it was then called the Haringey Sailing Association.

So what led to its existence?  Well on Banbury Reservoir at that time there were a number of separate sailing centres, each operated by the education department of a different borough.  As well as Haringey, there was Newham, Waltham Forest, Enfield and the Inner London Education Authority, and all these separate centres provided sail training courses for their own schools and for the adults of their own boroughs.  Additionally, there were also adult sailing courses available from the Lee Valley Park Authority’s own sailing centre on the reservoir.

It was a very busy place.  On a busy summer’s day, with 6 different centres on Banbury Reservoir, it was a picture of wall-to-wall boats with perhaps 70 or 80 dinghies weaving an intricate ballet out on its 92 acres, which is 4 times larger than West Reservoir.

But of course, it’s no good learning to sail if you can’t carry on with it afterwards, and that’s the reason the HSA, as it was then called, was formed.  Because of the strong educational links and the strong support and encouragement that came from the Haringey Education Department, it was a group of Haringey teachers who were into sailing, bringing down their school groups and taking further courses themselves to develop their own sailing, who banded together to form the HSA, and from their own ranks, they provided the Senior Instructors to operate sailing for the members on Sunday mornings, independent of the borough’s staff.  Some of those original teachers are still members, having been made vice-presidents of our Association, in appreciation of their contributions over many years.

Rod Carr OBE - Former NLSA President 

Members may be interested to know that until only recently, the former President of our Association Mr Rod Carr, who stepped down at the 2023 AGM, was the first head of the Haringey sailing staff.   Outside of NLSA, Carr has played a pivotal part in UK high-performance sports, including sailing, where he held prestigious roles from CEO of the Royal Yacht Association(RYA) to Chair of UK Sports, leading Britain through the Olympic Games in Rio 2016. 

There was, and of course still is active encouragement to members to develop their sailing skills and become instructors and senior instructors, helping to run the training courses held at the reservoir. 

One of the good things about the Haringey Education Department was that it operated a number of outdoor education centres for its schools around the country.  One of those was Pendarren House in the Brecon Beacons where it offered orienteering, abseiling, caving and canoeing.  Another was at Brightlingsea in Essex, where it had access to accommodation in a house owned by the Ocean Youth Club, and it was able to keep a number of dinghies there and offer sailing weekends to school groups and to members of the Sailing Association.

"I well remember my feelings when I first went down to Brightlingsea back in the early 1980’s.  There was that strange mixture of trepidation and excitement we all feel at such times in leaving the relatively safe and secure reservoir sailing we are used to for the challenge of sea sailing.  Of course, there was nothing to worry about because then like now, the SI in charge of the weekend would always appoint an experienced sailor as skipper for each dinghy so that sailors new to sailing at Brightlingsea always had the guidance of the skipper in whatever boat they were in to point out the local landmarks and the shallow areas to avoid, as they took their turn at the helm" 

A further opportunity available to Association members were weekends organised on chartered yachts exploring other waters such as the Solent or across the Channel to Belgium or France.

A new era opened for the HSA in 1984 when the Ocean Youth Club decided to relocate its east coast base to Ipswich and to sell the Brightlingsea building long used by the Borough of Haringey as its coastal sailing base.  The centre was offered to the Borough but it was not prepared to make funds available to buy it or to be involved in its purchase.  A member of the Association, Mike Tuscher, who worked for Haringey Youth Service, had contacts in the Sports Council for England and initial approaches suggested that they could make funding available for the purchase of the Brightlingsea Centre by the Sailing Association.

The Association therefore decided to apply to the Sports Council for funding and was successful in its application.  The purchase of the Brightlingsea Centre for use as a sailing base therefore went ahead and was completed on 18th April 1986, the official ownership of the building being held for legal reasons by a group of 3 Trustees appointed by the Association, although in practical terms the centre was operated by committee members appointed with responsible for maintenance, domestic matters and member’s bookings.  The Trustees were an ex-Chair of the association, Joyce Watson, Peter Black, a solicitor who had helped out on the legal aspects of the purchase, and from the Haringey Youth Service, Mike Tuscher.

It was decided that Brightlingsea finances should be separately recorded in order to demonstrate that the facility could be self-sufficient and not therefore a drain on the general funds of the Association.  Income to the Association was to come from member’s bookings, from the Borough of Haringey using the centre for its school sailing groups and from other outside sailing groups using the centre.

Originally the house was quite primitive with bunk beds for 18 in 2 large dormitories upstairs and just a single communal unisex washroom with 2 basins, a single WC cubicle and a partitioned-off bath.  An early improvement during the 1988-89 winter period was to install 2 additional WCs and 2 showers in spare space downstairs.

For a number of years, the Association found itself enjoying its Sunday sailing at Banbury Reservoir, successfully operating its Brightlingsea centre and organising its occasional yacht chartering trips.  Unfortunately, such an idyllic scenario was not to last.

Gradually in the 1980’s education budgets were being squeezed and sailing suffered as part of it.  Newham and Waltham Forest shut down their sailing at Banbury Reservoir, Enfield passed their sailing to the Enfield Scout Sailing Association, who soon after moved there operation away to Broxbourne, and when ILEA was dissolved, their sailing operation passed to Hackney.  Haringey’s sailing operation came under similar pressure and the decision was made by councillors to shut down the Haringey schools sailing operation in March 1992.

Association members were not happy about this but the experience of operating Brightlingsea successfully for a number of years convinced members that they should do everything to help keep sailing going for the schools and adults of Haringey.

Contact was made with the Sports Council who responded encouragingly and their advice included a recommendation that an educational charity to operate the sailing would have the best chance of obtaining the necessary operating funds from other grant-making organisations.  They also recommended that the charity should be linked to a wider area than just Haringey.

A business plan was drawn up and lobbying of Haringey councillors and public opinion started.  Very quickly, the councillors realized that passing the boats and the facilities at Banbury Reservoir over to somebody else got them out of the hole they had dug and they agreed to the proposed arrangements.

A registered charity, the North London Youth Sailing Trust (NLYST), was set up to take over and continue the provision of a sailing programme for schools in North London with the HSA supported the work of NLYST as it had previously supported the work of the Haringey school sailing unit.  The first Trustees included 2 Haringey head teachers, the ex-head of the National Schools Sailing Association and Sue Brown, then Chair of the Association and wife of the retired Chief PE Advisor of Haringey, Eric Brown, who had been instrumental in setting up sailing in Haringey 20 years or more earlier and in arranging Haringey’s initial use of the Brightlingsea facilities.

NLYST became the owners of the ex-Haringey boats at the reservoir and at Brightlingsea and the ex-Haringey Head of Centre, Anna Blannin, agreed to continue here previous role, now working for NLYST rather than Haringey.  Financially NLYST operated on a knife-edge but it was able to provide the service it had set out to supply.  Some operational funding was obtained from the British Marine Industries Federation and from Thames Water, the schools coming in paid a small fee per pupil and there was income from the Brightlingsea boats being used by the HSA and by outside sailing groups from around the country.  Additionally many HSA instructor and senior instructors gave their time to run adult training courses, which generated income.

At the AGM held on 1st April 1993, its 21st birthday year, the Haringey Sailing Association changed it's name to become the North London Sailing Association to fall in line with the name of the North London Youth Sailing Trust.

Following various applications to obtain funding, the NLSA was able over the winter of 1994-95, to carry out a long overdue re-development of our Brightlingsea centre.  The staircase was moved from the front of the building to the back to increase space in the downstairs room which serves as a combined lounge/dining room/kitchen/classroom.  Upstairs the bathroom and 2 large dormitories were ripped out.  2 smaller main 6 person dormitories, each with en-suite washroom and WC and 2 additional 2 person bedrooms were created, plus 2 showers accessible from the upstairs corridor.  A new central heating system was also installed.  This work vastly improved the usability and comfort of the building.

Nor was NLYST standing still at this time.  A successful application was made in 1996 for lottery funding to replace the aging NLYST boats at Banbury Reservoir and at Brightlingsea.

There was a temporary delay to the boat replacement programme when organisational changes started to loom at Banbury Reservoir.  The Lee Valley Park Authority offered to take over the school sailing operation being provided by NLYST, including the staff, and around the same time the decision was made that the Hackney school sailing operation would move to Stoke Newington West Reservoir.

Hackney needed to make its own lottery application for funding to develop the Stoke Newington West Reservoir site and approached NLYST and NLSA for discussions. The funding consultant for Hackney said that the Hackney lottery bid would be significantly more likely to be successful if it included a definitive link with a previously successful lottery bidder like NLYST and also demonstrated its commitment to the local Stoke Newington community by having a community-based sailing association such as NLSA operating at the new reservoir.

A further advantage would be that if NLYST were to base the new boats for which it had already been granted lottery funding at Stoke Newington and make them available to Hackney, then Hackney would not need to ask for as much funding and their bid would be more likely to be successful.

The invitation from Hackney was accepted by NLYST and NLSA and an agreement was therefore drawn up between Hackney and NLYST confirming that NLYST would make its new fleet available to Hackney if Hackney agreed to maintain them and to replace them at the end of their useful life.  Hackney also agreed that NLSA would have exclusive adult leisure sailing rights at the centre.  The agreement was to came into effect on 1 April 1997.

NLYST therefore moved its existing fleet of Wayfarers and Toppers to Stoke Newington at the end of March 1997 and the existing Hackney fleet was sold off.

Meanwhile, a new fleet comprising 4 Wayfarers and a safety boat were ordered by NLYST for Brightlingsea and were put into use for the 1997 season. Since then, NLYST has replaced most of the 1997 Brightlingsea fleet with more modern designs.

Discussions then took place with Hackney on the make-up of the new fleet to be ordered by NLYST for Stoke Newington and in 1998 that new fleet comprising Sport 14’s, Buzzes, Topazes and a Cruz ketch went into use.

Subsequently, Hackney’s lottery bid came through.  All the facilities were moved into temporary portacabins and the redevelopment of the central core and the replacement of the 2 old wings of the building took place. Once that was complete, Stoke Newington West Reservoir Centre, as the Hackney sailing facility was now called, was then able to purchase additional boats to augment the NLYST fleet comprising Lasers, Funboats and more Sport 14 and Topazes etc.

Subsequently, the original NLYST boats reached the end of their useful lives and were replaced by GLL who were by then running the centre for Hackney, with the most recent purchases being Omegas, Bahias, Picos and Hartley 10s.

By Brian Williams May 2007, updated June 2014 and February 2022