The National Sailing Academy in Weymouth did us the great honour of hosting a commission meeting in July 2009. Despite the Australian jibe that the Poms are only any good at sports that involve sitting down, we should be justifiably proud of our equestrian sports people, our rowers, cyclists and sailors.
The sailing venue is finished and being used now. It is a brilliant venue, using the natural sweep of the bay surrounded by world heritage Jurassic coastline as a perfect competition space and natural amphitheatre.
From a sustainability point of view, the venue has a great story to tell. According to CEO John Tweed, it started in 2003 with a couple of people with “a vision and no money”. The withdrawal of the MOD from Portland left this enchanting area of coastland with significant unemployment and economic problems long before the credit crunch. An area of contaminated land with some buildings, redundant fuel tanks and a slipway only suitable for hovercraft was acquired from the MOD by a new social enterprise to form the National Sailing Academy. A lot of hard work supported by investment by the local Regional Development Agency saw the birth of a new organisation.
The selection of the venue for the Olympics provided a further boost to the area and more investment by the ODA to upgrade the facilities to Olympic standard. This involved additional hardstanding for boats, facilities for disabled sailors and improved slipway conditions. It is the first project ever to be awarded the highest CEEQUAL award for environmental excellence in civil engineering. The project had significant environmental challenges, from protection of coral, to habitats for sea horses and a rare microscopic worm that is unique to this particular bay. The first precious consignment of mud and worms transported to the laboratory was held up by a gang of hapless thugs who successfully made off with several buckets of mud. I am sure Ronnie Biggs would be in awe of this daring and well planned robbery.
The venue is becoming a social and economic success story. Elite sailors sail in the same water as kids from local schools or families enjoying the local residents “Sail for a Fiver” taster days; this gives the place a very inclusive feeling. The arrival of the Olympics has attracted private developers to build a Marina that will be used during the Games but will also attract boat owners. As a result of this an excellent restaurant has been opened nearby with more leisure and shopping facilities to come. All this brings much needed employment to a deprived area. Weymouth and Portland in July is not quite like a February day in Hackney but economic and social challenges are still there to be tackled.
This project is a great example of the “virtuous cycle” concept of social, economic and environmental sustainability working in harmony. It is also a good blend of social entrepreneurialism, public and private investment coming together to support a community with due respect to the environment. We commend the success of this venue; the Olympic Park has a hard act to follow and the Aussies will find our sailors hard to beat in their own water.