Statement on COVID-19 coronavirus

From OYT South Chief Executive Mark Todd

Initial statement (18th March 2020)

Updated statement (15th April 2020)

Response to the House of Commons Digital, Culture, Media and Sport Committee report on the Covid-19 crisis and charities (11th May 2020)

Initial statement (18th March 2020)
Ocean Youth Trust South’s first priority has always been the safety and welfare of everyone involved with the charity. We have therefore taken the decision not to start our sailing season as planned on 23rd March 2020. This is in line with government guidance on avoiding unnecessary travel and social contact.

We have already emailed people who were scheduled to sail on the first few voyages of the season to confirm that their voyages cannot take place, and we will continue reviewing subsequent voyages based on the latest government guidance, and with the interests of the young people, staff and volunteers who sail with us foremost in our minds.

Ocean Youth Trust South is very proud of the reputation we have developed over the years and of the excellent relationships we have with clients, volunteers, sponsors, donors and others. Many people and organisations have given huge support, time or funds in order to develop our charitable work and ensure that we can operate to very high standards: we are tremendously grateful for all the support we receive. While safety is our number one priority, we also believe that honesty and fairness lie at the heart of all we do. We are currently in a very fast-moving situation but any decisions we make will always be guided by what we believe to be in the best interests of all our stakeholders, and we will endeavour to keep people informed as things change.

Sail training changes lives and we firmly believe that young people – including those who are disadvantaged and vulnerable – benefit enormously from the experience we can offer. We will therefore be doing everything possible to ensure that we are able to get our sailing programme up and running again as soon as it is safe to do so, while maintaining our commitment to quality and high standards.

There are difficult times ahead and we will be immensely grateful to those who are able to offer support to see us through.

In the meantime all at OYT South send very best wishes to everyone connected with the charity, and to all your families and friends.

Mark Todd
Chief Executive, Ocean Youth Trust South

Updated statement (15th April 2020)
Our friends, supporters, volunteers, clients and other stakeholders might find it useful to have an update on where Ocean Youth Trust South stands at the moment – with particular reference to the support being made available for charities and specifically the government support announced last week, as we have been contacted by people hoping that this might have made a real difference to us.

COVID-19 is a threat to the existence of many charities and to all the good work they do. This is true across a vast range of charities, including the sail training community.

Supporting our beneficiaries
It is important to remind ourselves what charities like Ocean Youth Trust South have to offer, and specifically the role we can play in helping our beneficiaries affected by COVID-19. Clearly a project which depends on bringing people together for residential sailing voyages cannot operate just now, but we believe we will still have a significant part to play in the recovery from the crisis.

Even before coronavirus, we were acutely conscious of the challenges faced by young people – including high levels of anxiety and mental health issues. Articles like this only confirm our view that things will be worse as a result of the current crisis. Young people who might use our services will have been cooped up for weeks, separated from friends, worried about school and exams, and will be heading for the start of adult life amidst extraordinary economic uncertainty and insecurity.

We have a record of success in promoting confidence, teamwork, resilience and more. We can play a real part in helping young people recover from the social and psychological effects of COVID-19.

Income loss
However, in order to do our valuable work, we need to be in a position to offer voyages again as soon as it is safe to do so. This means that we have to navigate our way through a period during which we have no trading income whatsoever.

We cannot just shut up shop and do nothing until we can start sailing again: we need to keep our boat Prolific maintained, as well as continuing to liaise with clients, donors and more, raising money and filling future voyages. That means we have to keep on some of our staff and keep paying our bills, despite the catastrophic loss of income.

Government support

  • Employee Retention Scheme

The one government scheme that is clearly a big help to a charity in our position is the Employee Retention Scheme which has allowed us to furlough half our staff, paying their salaries even though they are not working.

However, the scheme only allows two options: a staff member is either furloughed and not working at all (in which case there is support for their salary), or they are still at work (in which case there is no salary help from the government).

What would make a huge difference to a small charity like OYT South would be a more flexible scheme. We have staff who MUST keep up with a small amount of work if the charity is to survive but who need not be working full-time. If we could furlough someone for three days a week while working for two days, or some equivalent flexible scheme, it would make a huge difference. (We can’t just share out the essential work across the minimum number of full-time employees – our Staff Engineer cannot spend part of his working week paying the bills and our finance team cannot look after Prolific’s engine).

As attention turns to the next phase – easing the lockdown and returning to work – there has been more talk of managing this in stages, with different sectors starting a return at different times. We hope that the government will look at how the Employee Retention Scheme might continue to apply to businesses which still cannot operate even after other sectors have returned to normal. If sail training might not be among the earlier industries to resume operations, having to pay full salaries again before our trading income returns could have a devastating impact.

  • Charity support

On 8th April the Chancellor announced £750 million in support for charities affected by COVID-19. Many of our friends and supporters hoped this would be great news for us. But it is clear from the small print that this money is explicitly aimed at ensuring that charities “can continue their vital work during the coronavirus crisis”. We absolutely support the need to help charities doing fantastic and essential work at the moment. But this fund is not aimed at charities which have had to cease operations on a temporary basis: although we can make a strong case that Ocean Youth Trust South has a vital role to play once the immediate crisis is over, we are concerned that charities unable to operate at the moment may be overlooked for support.

Several other schemes which have received wide publicity appear to be set up on a similar basis.

The future
Ocean Youth Trust South is very fortunate that through hard work, good governance and the generosity of donors now and in the past, we have sufficient reserves to ensure we make it through to next year. But without a lot of help, we will be using money that had been set aside for long-term needs, and this will severely affect our future plans, and our ability to maintain our vessel, and will compromise our ability to function in the future.

How you can help
We need to get our case across! Can you write to your MP or lobby anyone else in authority?

Can we persuade anyone to consider:

  • A more flexible furlough scheme for small charities?
  • Ensuring that the Employee Retention Scheme is there as long as we need it – even if other sectors have returned to work
  • Financial support for charities currently unable to operate, if their services will be needed in future
  • Official public support for the value of outdoor education in helping people recover from the effects of the crisis
  • More long term funding for youth services and outdoor education generally.

We also need donations and support.

Meanwhile, all at OYT South send very best wishes to everyone connected with the charity, and to all your families and friends.

Mark Todd
Chief Executive, Ocean Youth Trust South

Ocean Youth Trust South response to the House of Commons Digital, Culture, Media and Sport Committee report on the Covid-19 crisis and charities (pdf)

Ocean Youth Trust South is one of 71 charities to have submitted written evidence published as part of the Committee’s enquiry. OYT South is the only sail training operator listed. The Association of Sail Training Organisations is also included - so out of thousands of UK charities, sail training is well-represented.

Our evidence is directly quoted (page 9): “Charities that facilitate sailing trips for disadvantaged children, as another example, cannot furlough those who maintain the vessels, despite a collapse in income. Ocean Youth Trust South therefore calls for “a more flexible furlough scheme with salary support allowing small charities to reduce staff hours, rather than the current choice between working or not working at all”.

OYT South called for four specific actions as part of our evidence, and we set out here how the report addresses these issues:

OYT South requested action

Relevant committee conclusions

A more flexible furlough scheme with salary support allowing small charities to reduce staff hours, rather than the current choice between working or not working at all

“We recommend that the Department for Digital, Culture, Media and Sport works with the charity sector and HM Treasury immediately to review the measures in place to support businesses, and to ensure they fully meet the needs of the charity and voluntary sector. In particular, the Government should introduce a separate Coronavirus Job Retention Scheme for charities within four weeks. The scheme should enable furloughed employees of charities to volunteer for their organisations providing appropriate safeguards are met.” (page 15)

Ensuring that the Employee Retention Scheme continues for sectors still facing restrictions, even after other sectors have returned to more normal working

“We also ask the Government to guarantee that six weeks’ notice will be given of the Coronavirus Job Retention Scheme ending so that charities can plan accordingly, and to phase the ending of the scheme to support any charities that are unable to return immediately to full capacity.” (page 15)

Financial support for charities to be extended to those who have had to cease operations temporarily but will have a role to play later in the recovery from the crisis

“Many charities and voluntary organisations perform essential work that, while not directly tackling Covid-19, underpins the fabric of our society. Losing their services in either the short term or after the country emerges from this crisis will cause untold damage to individuals and communities. It cannot be allowed to happen.” (Page 15)

In addition to the support that has already been announced, the Government should establish further funding to assist charities and voluntary organisations to stay afloat throughout the Covid-19 crisis. This should be available to organisations facing financial pressures, even if they are not involved in the frontline response to Covid-19. We request that the Secretary of State updates us, preferably via an oral hearing as well as in the Government’s written response to this Report, on what progress has been made in securing additional support for charities and tailoring the business measures to them, as well as the Department’s plans for monitoring the ongoing impact of this crisis on the charity sector’s financial resilience. Given the urgency of the matter, we request that we receive this update by Friday 5 June.” (page 16)

Official public backing for and investment in this type of outdoor activity as a key player in helping young people recover from the social and psychological effects of COVID-19, to the lasting benefit of families, employers and communities as well as individuals.

Not addressed.

  Ocean Youth Trust South welcomes the Committee’s conclusions and recommendations which directly address three of the four points we raised.

We sincerely hope the Government will act on the Committee’s recommendations.

Mark Todd
Chief Executive, Ocean Youth Trust South
11th May 2020











“I have learnt and seen loads of new things and I will remember for the rest of my life! ” Jemima, aged 12