Securing the Future of Adaptive Waterskiing & Wakeboarding

A presentation was held at Heron Lake on Sun 3 Nov 2019 

Detailed discussions by the trustees regarding the points outlined in the presentation are documented here:

The Future of the BDWWA


Paper 1



A discussion document for the Trustees of the BDWWA and Access Adventures and the regional committees of the BDWWA south West and Yorkshire and Central regions.


By Gordon Bloor, Trustee (following a meeting of the Trustees of the BDWWA).




The Objects of the BDWWA can be summed up as ‘to promote the welfare of all disabled individuals through their participation in the sports of water skiing and wakeboarding'.  Within the context of our articles ‘disabled individuals’ refers to anyone having a physical, sensory, mental or learning disability’.


The BDWWA has been running at its Heron base and a number of regions since the 1980s and has been positively life changing for many hundreds of people who have suffered life altering accidents, illnesses or have conditions that provide significant physical challenges.  Additionally, BDWWA provides a positive experience for people who, while they may never want or be able to engage in the sport on an ongoing basis, never the less enjoy a one-off experience at one of the facilities.


Currently The BDWWA operates 3 regions; National / South East at Heron, South West based at Ellingham Water Ski & Wakeboard Club and Yorkshire and Central who operate on a ‘nomadic’ basis.


However the BDWWA faces some existential challenges.


  1. The environment and society we operate in has changed dramatically in our 35+ years of existence. Our ‘client base’ have far greater expectations in relation to participation in leisure and sporting activities, both competitive and recreational.   

  2. We have been overtaken as one of the leading and most progressive sports for disabled athletes by almost every other sport (particularly Paralympic sports), that now offer our potential clients and members, fantastic engagement, experiences and opportunities.  

  3. Participation, (I believe across all regions) but particularly at Heron, has declined over many years. This decline is seen in both regular member skiing (and volunteers), but also in courses and attendance by schools, council backed or other charitable groups (Back up, Reach, Guide Dogs assoc. etc.), all of whom face their own resourcing and financial constraints.

  4. As participation has declined the significant costs and efforts required to run the infrastructure of Heron are benefiting a relatively small number of full members and fewer courses

  5. Our membership is generally not interested in committing time and effort to promoting and or running the Association (or even attending a once a year AGM), there is definitely a ‘turn up and ski’ mentality and we see little positive input or effort from anyone not directly involved in the regional or national management committees.  This places a high degree of reliance on a small number of volunteers.


Despite the changing environment, the aims, structures, rules and processes of the BDWWA have not fundamentally changed since its inception.  The Trustees are concerned that these are no longer sustainable and without major changes in both our Objects and delivery, the decline in participation could continue to the point at which we will not be able sustain sufficient interest to justify our charitable status or even our ‘raison d’etre’.


The Trustees of the BDWWA have therefore started to consider potential alternative models to address some of the challenges, to try to increase participation and extend the benefits the charity delivers to a wider audience. The alternatives we have considered really encompass the three core fundamentals of the BDWWA what, who and how.


Our initial discussions around these topics have led us to a number of general ‘conclusions’ in that we believe the association should remain focussed on promoting the welfare of people with disabilities, through the provision of leisure and /or sports activities. However we all see the potential benefits of broadening the offering from its current relatively narrow definition to something more general, such as ‘to promote the welfare of all disabled individuals through their participation in sports and leisure activities’, which we believe remains consistent with the original aims of the association.  So assuming the ‘who’ question remains to provide services for the benefit of ‘people with disabilities’, the what and the how are for further discussion and consideration.




Clearly with our current water-based focus and existing facilities at Heron it would be relatively simple to broaden our offerings to include sports such as adaptive paddle boarding, kayaking or sub-aqua.  There are also non-water sports and leisure options that require little infrastructure and would be relatively simple to deliver, Yoga, Tai Chi, Wheel Chair skills etc. (for a few more ideas;


But with planning, effort and a small amount of investment, the site at Heron could also offer a far broader range of non-water based sports for example off road biking, archery, air rifling, or climbing.  If we set our sights higher and looked at a longer term plan we could target additional facilities at Heron; a dedicated adaptive gym facility, adaptive tennis courts etc.


As an Association we could develop an amazing adaptive multi-sport, centre that remains faithful to the original objectives and retains water skiing and wakeboarding as a core and key component of its offering, but becomes something much more significant with broader appeal and the ability to change many more lives and benefit a far wider audience!




Obviously much of this thinking is about developing the Heron facility and these changes would potentially alter the nature of the Association and its regional structure. For example would the regions want to extend their remit to a broader multi-sports offering?  I can see enormous benefit in having the regions engaged in this potential future; extending the South West’s offering from skiing at Ellingham to include paddle boarding in Poole harbour and or mountain biking in the new forest, or Yorkshire and Central adding hand cycling to their courses at Car Mill dam. However we should also recognise that the challenges faced by us as a national association, may not be reflected at a local level and the regions may wish to continue to focus on delivering water skiing and wakeboarding in their current format.  If so, I think the regions should be able to determine their own future and potentially form independent charities.


This potential future also creates some significant overlap with Access Adventures (, a multi-sport adaptive sport charity offering adventure sports camps both in the UK and abroad and who operate their water ski camps at Heron.  For those that aren’t aware, Jane Sowerby is a co-founder and Trustee of Access Adventures and also a Trustee of the BDWWA.  Access Adventures have 4 current Trustees as well as Jane, Clare Williams and Tim Far have both a long association as members and volunteers at Heron, and Mel Swinkels.


The vision of Access Adventure and the potential future direction of the BDWWA as envisaged here, would mean two similar and connected organisations providing overlapping services, with a similar mission and objectives to the same target market. So the obvious question would be whether we would be stronger together? 


My personal opinion is that, if our future lies in a broader offering as outlined, combining Access Adventures professional expertise in course planning, marketing and delivery (as well as its fundraising ability) with the massive potential that the infrastructure at Heron and wider BDWWA offers, could prove the most effective combination to establish a really significant and life changing adaptive sports charity.


Next steps


Clearly there would need to be a lot of thought and planning put into the structure and operation of any merged organisation, but if the general direction as outlined and discussed here is supported by the trustees and regions of the BDWWA and the trustees of Access adventures, I believe we should target presenting a plan at the 2019 BDWWA AGM (or if that is too soon an EGM in early 2020).


Step 1 -   Reconvene with all interested parties to discuss the optimum structure to target and communication with members

Step 2 -   Create a smaller working group to create a transition plan (amendments to or new articles, asset transfers etc), reporting back to the wider group on a regular basis.

Step 3 -   Approach Affinity, for their backing (for Heron).

Step 4 -   Present plans to an AGM/EGM




The Future of the BDWWA


Paper 2



Following the distribution of the original paper, a meeting was held between the representatives of the SW and Y&C regions (‘Regions’) and the Trustees of the BDWWA / AA to discuss possible options and alternatives for the route forward for the expansion of the BDWWA’s Objects to embrace a wider range of sports and activities and potential merger with Access Adventures. Since then there has been further analysis of the options and discussion within the Regions.  This paper addresses the current thinking of the working committee of BDWWA and AA Trustees as to the optimum organisational structure.


While the regions understand the concerns and challenges faced by the National centre at Heron, they are not experiencing the same issues, primarily as they operate on a ‘limited availability basis’ due to the nomadic operation at Y&C and operation within a commercial ski environment at Ellingham for SW.   Their courses or novice days are generally oversubscribed.


Neither Region felt equipped to expand their offering outside of Waterskiing/Wakeboarding (‘WS/W’) as they felt that they did not have the expertise, nor a compelling rationale within their local operations.  So, assuming the proposed changes are sanctioned by the BDWWA membership and Access Adventures’ trustees, there remains a question about how, if at all, the regions remain affiliated or associated with the merged BDWWA/AA (‘NewOrg’). 


The preferred route of the Regions appears to be to continue to operate under the umbrella of NewOrg, benefitting from the ‘infrastructure’ (Management teams, Trustees, fund raising expertise etc.) that will exist to support the new expanded Objects, to continue to have representation and a say in how the organisation operates, but to continue to deliver only WS/W within the regions, not to embrace those expanded Objects and therefore not help the wider BDWWA via NewOrg overcome the existential challenges that it faces. 


For the Trustees this would create a ‘two tier’ system; a ‘core’ NewOrg, that promotes a wide range of sports and activities with a long term goal of creating a truly life changing adaptive sports charity and centre of adaptive sports at Heron, with Regions focussed on a much narrower remit in both sporting and geographic terms, and it would be challenging to marry these two operational and promotional models.


The reality is that the 3 Regions including the National Centre have operated significantly different models for many years with a limited amount of management, administrative and financial coordination through the Trustees.  Operationally, we are diverse and thinly spread and without a common vision or objects the benefits of ‘management’ coordination to either the Regions or NewOrg would appear to be limited.  Therefore, the proposal would be that the association between NewOrg and the regions becomes more collaborative rather than formal each pursuing their own vision, but potentially collaborating and supporting each other. For NewOrg, this would certainly involve promoting local WS/W courses in the Y&C region (and SW, capacity allowing) and promoting regional skiing to the wider course and sporting participants, but it could also potentially include some level of administrative or fund-raising advisory support as an interim step, to help secure the future of the Regions.  


This would require the SW and Y&C Regions either to continue to operate the BDWWA or create their own new entities. We are aware that SW are looking at the possibility of creating their own Charitable Incorporated Organisation and potentially Y&C could operate in the same manner. It may also be beneficial for Y&C to investigate whether they could partner more formally with one of the local clubs where it operates, but this would be something for the local ‘Trustees’ to consider.  However the Regions decide to structure themselves, it is anticipated that the ‘local’ assets of the BDWWA would be transferred and remain with the relevant Region.


The Structure of NewOrg.


Having considered various options for a merger of BDWWA and AA and looked at the ideal structure moving forward, we believe that the Charitable Incorporated Organisation (CIO) is the right model as operating a Charity as well as a Company Limited by Guarantee, is expensive and administratively burdensome. Our thoughts are:


  • NewOrg should be controlled by Trustees rather than operate a membership structure, which brings little engagement or benefit to the Organisation or Members. It is recommended that a Board of Trustees would be 5-7 strong, and the initial composition would be a combination of the boards of both the BDWWA and AA.

  • Protection of the BDWWA’s assets currently afforded by the BDWWA Associate / Full Member balance rule could be replicated in the make-up of NewOrg’ s Articles, by determining that the balance between Trustee’s with Disabilities vs those without remains positive.

  • From a revenue and operational point of view this is merger of ‘equals’ with similar revenues and similar organisational structures. Based on the existing accounts and AAs 2020 forecast NewOrg revenues/budget would be in the region of £120,000 - £140,000 bringing scale that can drive efficiencies and allowing greater investment in promotion and development.

    • The BDWWA has significant assets, but struggles meeting the operational expenses of running the Association based on its current charitable activities.

    • AA currently has less ‘hard’ assets but has a more robust ongoing funding model and the expertise to break BDWWAs reliance on 3rd party revenues (accommodation, ACE etc.)



The question therefore is the most efficient way to move to a single merged CIO and there are two options; we either found a new CIO and transfer the assets of both organisations in to that, or we use the existing Access Adventures CIO and ‘transfer in’ the relevant BDWWA assets.  While ‘politically’ the latter option maybe more sensitive, it is more efficient and will mean that current corporate sponsorship and grant funding sources are not interrupted.


From a sensitivity point of view both Jane and Tim, are becoming ‘Employees’ of Access Adventures, so will need to step down from the board of Trustees, which means the initial composition of the NewOrg board, would ideally be Claire Williams and Mel Swinkels from AA and from the BDWWA (assuming Bridget would engage with the Regional organisation and Robin does indeed retire), Marta Rudyk, Duncan White, Gordon Bloor & Stephanie Kaye.


From a brand perspective we would initially continue to operate BDWWA and Access Adventures (unless the Regions decide to continue to operate as the BDWWA) but look to develop a brand strategy around Access Adventures and ‘Edge’ (in deference to our founder, but also for its ‘living on the edge’ connotations), which we are all agreed are far more in line with current thinking than BDWWA.


There are lots of details to be worked on and discussion to be held, for example gaining Affinity’s blessing and meeting with British Water ski to work out whether and how we can or should remain affiliated. However, the primary goal is to get the high-level plan sanctioned by the Trustees of BDWWA and AA gain the understanding if not full agreement with the Regions, so that this can be presented and communicated to the members and put to an AGM in November.


My suggestion would be to set up a presentation a couple of weeks, before the AGM that members could attend in person or via WebEx. So that we can clearly outline the proposals and the reasons behind them.  We should discuss the methods of voting that Bridget has raised at the Mancom.

Registered charity no. 1063678