My last blog was written just before Christmas and, at that point, I was wishing everyone a happy holiday and my biggest worry was what present I was going to buy for Mrs Gofton! Oh, how things have changed.

When we came back after the Christmas break, things were relatively normal. We'd had a staff reshuffle including some role changes and a reduction in the senior leadership team; preparations for our new strategy were well underway and, I intended to provide an update in March outlining our direction for the next three to five years!

And then…

COVID-19 hit the UK and, 23 March became the day we will never forget. It was the day the UK Government announced that we would go into lockdown and that all swimming pools and leisure centres would shut.

Fortunately, we had planned for this eventuality and quickly moved everyone into homeworking mode. Of course, the significant impact on our activities was only just beginning to bite.

On 21 March, our Board of Trustees met and agreed on two significant things: firstly, our new strategic framework (more on that later) and secondly, our Emergency COVID-19 Action Plan.

This Action Plan had been drafted by the senior leadership team only days earlier. It is a document that we have worked on ever since and, arguably, has ensured we have reached this point in relatively good shape.

Our primary concern, like most, was to ensure the viability of the organisation through the crisis. We focused on several key areas such as managing our cash flow, trying to adapt and create new income opportunities, and finally, supporting our partners and the leisure sector as much as possible. We understood that they are facing difficult times ahead and we wanted them to know that together, we would be stronger.

The RLSS UK team were fantastic and, without any fuss, all agreed to take a pay cut. This type of thing is never an easy decision, but the gravity of the situation was not lost on anyone. We made this decision before the Government announced the furlough scheme, but when they did, we placed over 70 per cent of the team into the scheme immediately. As work ebbed and flowed, we made some alterations with over 90 per cent of our workforce furloughed at some point; this has given a real sense of sharing the burden and sharing the workload.

We then introduced some online remote learning opportunities; some of these were provided at a cost to help supplement some loss of income but, the vast majority have been free of charge, particularly to our members and partners.

Some of the numbers have been staggering.

Here, is a small insight into the number of online modules completed so far.

NPLQ: 172,985                             
Lifesaver: 15,249                         
NVBLQ: 4,414                               
DPW: 2,335                                   
TA COVID-19 Update: 1,886       
First Aid Refresher: 62

A total of 196,869 completed modules and the number of assessments that have been taken stands at 487,522.

During this lockdown period, we were still able to make progress and subsequently, announced some more key strategic partnerships with Child Bereavement UK, the Black Swimming Association and Papyrus UK. All of them are fantastic organisations that will be able to help us, and our members in the years ahead.

So where are we now?

Well, we are in a good place (as well as can be expected) at the moment. 2019 was our best financial year for at least ten years, so we had a solid base from which to work from. Strong financial management has also meant that we have been able to tackle all the challenges that we have faced. Hopefully, you will have seen our communications on our efforts to support our members and the sector during COVID-19.

Unfortunately, we are not totally immune and must face the same reality that most organisations are coming to terms with. Life now is very different, our organisation is very different, and we must continue to adapt and react to ensure the work that has got us here is not lost.

My job is to make difficult decisions; decisions that when I joined 14 months ago, I did not anticipate having to make but ones that are absolutely necessary to ensure RLSS UK remains a strong and healthy organisation. In the short-term, this means some changes to the way we operate and potential changes to the team; this is heart-breaking because every one of them is part of our family, but the world has changed, and we cannot ignore that.

As a former cricketer, my analogy of the current situation is that it is the last day of a test match, we are nine wickets down, our last pair are at the crease, needing 70 to win, and the new ball is due. Many would lose from this position but, we are still in the game, and we have a fighting chance not only to survive with a draw but, to win the game!

It is backs-against-the-wall stuff like this that will define our organisation, and I have every confidence in the team and our Trustees to ensure we come out stronger than before.

The green shoots ahead bode well, but we still need to be prudent and carefully manage the next few months. It would be easy to forget the past four months and convince ourselves that everything will go back to normal very quickly.

It won’t.

So, what does the future hold?

I don’t have a crystal ball, but what I do have is a strategic framework which was approved, in March. It feels like now is the time to start planning for the longer-term and start to move out of our crisis management situation. At our last Board meeting, the Trustees re-visited the framework, and it still seems to make perfect sense as our blueprint for the future. I want to share that with you now and outline some of the significant changes it identifies.

The new strategy was always going to be about growing our membership support and community. It is about how we show that our work is vital in every city, town, community, or household. Whether you are one month or one hundred years old, our work keeps everyone safe. We will not stop until drownings have ended and, even then, we will work even harder to keep it that way.

We will look at how we support clubs to get more people actively involved in our activities. Most organisations look at their grassroots support as a way to build and develop their activities, we are no different, and we must all work collectively to get more people to join our family. It is partly for this reason that we are moving slightly away from a drowning prevention focus (a reduction in the number of people who drown in the UK and Ireland will always be a key priority) to concentrate on water safety; education; training; and our qualifications. All of these done well and effectively, will help us achieve our new vision: Nations without drowning where everyone can safely enjoy being in, on or near water.

Our purpose can now be described as, To enhance communities, so everyone can enjoy being in, on or near water safely - because every life is worth saving.

And our strapline will change to Enjoy Water, Safely.

This change has been a big decision and, some may question this, but, everything comes back to the fact that we all love involvement in water-based activities, it was at the very heart of William Henry’s vision for our organisation.

✓ We want more people to share our love of water but in a safe way.

✓ We will work with communities and organisations to share our expertise in lifesaving and lifeguarding.

✓ We will identify and demolish any barriers to participation.

✓ We are an inclusive organisation building lifesaving skills and should aim to get every single person in the UK and Ireland involved in what we do.

This is our mantra and echoed in our new Mission, To be the leader in lifesaving and lifeguarding in the UK and Ireland; sharing our expertise and knowledge with as many people as possible, giving everyone the potential to save lives and safely enjoy water.

We need to be bold and shout more about what we do. To do this, we need to recognise our members and volunteers as real heroes, working collectively to support our new vision.

Finally, we need to be more environmentally aware. Our biggest and most important part of our work is linked to water, and this is a precious resource. We all need to play our part and become guardians of our aquatic environment. Our organisation will immediately start this journey, and our commitment is to become carbon neutral as soon as possible.

Below is our new strategy on one page. It will require a collective effort from the Trustees, volunteers, members, and staff to turn it into reality, but this is an exciting part of our history.

Even COVID-19 cannot stop us on this journey, and I look forward to sharing it with you all.

More than ever, I will need your support if we are to recover from 2020 and build an organisation that we all want to see.

Here is more detail on each pillar, and the foundations they are built on:

Click here to download the PDF.

I just wanted to put on record how proud I am of the team and thank all the Trustees for their support during this time.

The team have taken up this challenge as a united force. It has not been easy for anyone but, the staff who we placed in the CJRS (furlough) scheme have sacrificed their time at work so that we could reclaim their salaries while they are unable to work. This sacrifice has been a lifeline to the organisation. However, I am under no illusion of how this may have affected the health and wellbeing of those involved.

The scheme has been used to protect jobs, but it may not be possible to protect every job as we continue on this journey. We must face this challenge like every other…head-on and with dignity, compassion, and professionalism.

I would also like to thank all the unfurloughed staff. At times we have been down to just 14 staff – around 20% of the workforce. This team, called the Remainers, have gone above and beyond what has been asked of them. The work that we have continually delivered for our members, volunteers, and customers from such a small team has been, at times, breath-taking. It is a real privilege to work with such a passionate and dedicated bunch. They do it for an organisation they all care so much about.

Finally, to the senior leadership team - I salute you!

In many organisations, there may be too many bosses (and not enough workers). But, at RLSS UK, the leadership team has shown their experience (across a wide range of disciplines); a can-do attitude; and real accountability for their work and success of the organisation.

The leadership team have covered the work of at least three or four people. Sales, marketing, fundraising, new product development, customer service…the list goes on.

Unlike other organisations, they have proved their weight in gold and, collectively, have made up for the shortfall in staff by taking in a workload usually assigned to 80%. This commitment has come at their own, personal cost and has affected everyone at some stage.

They are exhausted, both mentally and physically and, over the next few weeks, we will need to bring back more of the furlough team to relieve some of the burden carried by so few.

Finally, to me! The last few months have been a voyage of discovery; with many highs and many, many lows, but I don't care! I don’t care how I’m viewed. I make good decisions; I make bad ones; I have to make impossible decisions at an impossible time. My only goal is that we are still here, we are still in the game and, we come through this period ready for the next challenge.

One length at a time!

Thank you x