You are here"You have reached your destination"

"You have reached your destination"

By brian.cope - Posted on 25 June 2013

So this is it - Aquativity is now open.  This blog, charting the Road To Aquativity, has served its purpose of keeping interested parties informed of progress towards a functioning Aquativity Centre.  This is the last blog post in the series; I hope you have found it useful and interesting.  Please also take some time to look back through the history both here on the blog and in the newly posted picture gallery celebrating our opening on the Sea Scouts website.

Dressing the building for opening day
In this last entry, I'll sum up what Aquativity is all about, highlight some of the key milestones along the way to getting here, and look to the future of this exciting project.

Take a look at the top of the Aquativity Blog hosting page and you'll read:

It really is as simple as that.  Eling Sea Scouts needed a new HQ for Scouting and boating.  The area between the New Forest to the West and Southampton to the East has lots of tidal boating areas, but was very short of novice-safe inland waters to host youth and disability sailing, kayaking and rowing.  Around 10 years ago, Testwood Lakes was being converted from a working gravel pit to a wildlife reserve and needed someone to manage the recreational boating side of its future.  One short conversation later and the Aquativity project was born.  Eling Sea Scouts would come in alongside Southern Water as owners of the site, Hampshire and Isle of Wight Wildlife Trust as managers of the wildlife reserve, and New Forest District Council as custodians of the site's community objectives.  Our role was to establish a facility for young people and disabled people of the local area to learn and develop boating skills using the main Testwood Lake.  As part of that role, the Sea Scouts would use the new facility as their headquarters, enabling them to move out of their old hut that has seen much better days.

So why has it taken 10 years from the first conversation to the grand opening 2 days ago?  Well, a few reasons:

  • Funding (a new community facility like this needs more investment than a voluntary organisation can readily lay its hands on)
  • Red tape (some of it important and necessary, some of it perhaps less so)
  • The necessary hard work of planning, designing, agreeing and delivering what is a pretty complex project
Funding has come from many sources, some of it in much needed rapid bursts at the times when the project needed an injection to get over a major hurdle, some of it through the long process of raising a little at a time through many events, competitions and all manner of activities.  To put an accurate figure on the total cost is not trivial, as so many aspects of the project overlap with the Sea Scouts' day-to-day Scouting and boating activities, and especially because so much of the work contributed to the project has been voluntary.  The actual financial spend on the project to date is of the order of £400,000, but when you add in the amount of time and effort contributed for free by so many people, the total equivalent cost of what has been achieved is much higher.  All I can say at this point is a massive thank you to everyone who has helped in any way - donations of time, cash, materials, services...  Without all of those donations, this project would not have been delivered.

There have been many points along the way at which we have needed to negotiate and agree next steps towards the goal, with many different bodies.  Some of these have been exciting idea-generating discussions resulting in great leaps forward;
  • the initial design of the building,
  • agreement between the primary user groups of some of the finer details of how the building needs to work,
  • discussing with sponsors how best to balance the need for an injection of cash with continued buy-in and involvement of the project team and its supporters and users,
  • choosing some of the materials to enhance the look of the centre, and
  • agreeing the specification of the boating fleet to meet the diverse needs of those using the facility.
Other discussions have simply been frustrating.  Without dwelling on any of them as they all got resolved in the end, some of the issues that stick in the mind are:
Keep smiling
  • wasting months on a professional project manager who offered his services then completely failed to deliver and we've never heard from him since,
  • taking a full year to go from having approved planning permission and a detailed design that meets the needs of the users, to getting building regulations approval to proceed,
  • spending many hours in meetings with certain bodies who made a very good show of support only to disappear from the scene and not complete the actions they committed to, or in some cases fail to disappear from the scene when we wanted them to and put objections in the way rather than helping to provide solutions,
  • needing to work with 11 different organisations, with very different concerns, to run an electrical supply cable onto what is a relatively sensitive site with neighbours needing to avoid disruption,
  • having to find solutions for bringing a water supply with sufficient capacity onto site, and for discharging the waste water safely, where no public supply infrastructure or sewers exist - this may be a water-based site owned by a water company, right on the edge of a major built-up area, but these were serious problems to be solved to everyone's satisfaction,
  • constantly having to point out to some members of the public using the site alongside us, that dogs roaming free and leaving their mess right next to where children are trying to launch kayaks, is really not very helpful (this one has not yet been solved!).
The work that has gone into this project to get to opening day has been immense.  While contractors have been used for the specialist or biggest jobs that it was simply not feasible for volunteers to do, the rest has been achieved with hour after hour of voluntary work by busy people with busy work and home lives.  Whether it was design work, fundraising event planning, project managing building work, or putting plasterboard on walls, we did it and we're proud of what we've done.  I don't believe we have spent money where we didn't need to, but we have kept the quality of the work and materials high; this building has been built to last and built to impress.  I am certain that it will do both.

So what now?

In the immediate term, we are enjoying the feeling of completion.  I am sitting here in the main hall on a beautiful summer's evening, watching the Relentless Explorer Sea Scout Unit kayaking, sailing and rowing, out of one of the huge windows letting the evening sun shine in.  Someone who couldn't make it to Sunday's opening has just had a tour of the building; she was involved in the early days of the project and is thrilled to see the building available for use.  The leaders are planning and running their groups as they always do, building the newly available facilities into their plans.  The other potential user groups like Ferny Crofts and Sailability were here to participate in the opening event and are now away planning how they are going to make best use of the centre and get into the final discussions of operational details with us.

But we're not done yet.  There are some details inside and outside the building that are not yet in place, some bigger than others.  Some are waiting for some additional funding to become available, others just need a bit more time and effort, having not quite made it yet.  So we'll start to move through completion items and into full operational use and maintenance; less about the Road to Aquativity and more about Living with Aquativity.  We'll start to find out what works and what doesn't, what we can adapt to and what we'll need to fix, and how to get the best use out of what is a fantastic resource for a Sea Scout group and a community.

Thanks for all of the support from everyone involved and to those reading this, please keep in touch, particularly if you think you have something to offer to help Aquativity meet its goals.