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'It's all about sharing experiences': How this sailing group is helping addicts in recovery

Sailing into Wellness helps people with drug and alcohol problems to develop skills and build confidence through sailing each month.

James Lyons and Colin Healy
James Lyons and Colin Healy
Image: Social Entrepreneurs Ireland

“IT HAS REALLY profound positive impacts.”

Sailing into Wellness, an organisation for those with mental health issues and those recovering from addiction was founded as a small pilot project in 2016.

Since then, it has secured funding and support from Social Entreperneurs Ireland, and it now helps dozens with drug and alcohol problems to develop skills and build confidence through sailing each month.

Based in Cork, Sailing into Wellness was established by James Lyons, one of Ireland’s most experienced sail training professionals and Colin Healy from Mallow who overcame addiction and mental health problems through sailing.

“I come from a sailing background and sail training is my profession and passion. I had been working on an ad-hoc basis with guys and girls who have been in addiction recovery for a number of years,” Lyons told TheJournal.ie. 

“The inspiration to develop the stand-alone project was my co-founder, Colin Healy. He comes from an addiction and mental health background, he’s a person who had been through all the services himself. Sailing had a really profound impact on Colin and he wanted to share that with others.”

The pair began working alongside community groups in both Dublin and Cork, Coolmine Therapeutic Centre being an example.

“They’re community groups that work in the recovery sector – addiction recovery or mental health recovery,” Lyons said.

The wellness scheme

Working with the community groups, the sailing group brings groups of up to four participants out on the water with one of the coaches.

Sailing into Wellness offers two phases to its programme.

During the day sailing phase, the groups head out on the water at about 10am and return again at about 4pm. They repeat this for four days.

“It gets them on the water and comfortable on the water,” Lyons said.

The next phase is the Voyage of Recovery. During the voyage, the groups stay out on the water for up to five days.

“It’s a peer-led sailing programme, it’s all about sharing experiences, positive experiences. The framework is the learning to sail, but the actual benefit is far, far beyond the actual sailing itself,” Lyons said.

We had one particular guy who hadn’t left his house in four or five days and he’s slowly back engaging in a community group. For him to actually sit around a table and share a meal with people and share an experience was a very powerful thing.

Social Entrepreneur Awards

Last year, Lyons and Healy won funding for Sailing into Wellness from the Social Entrepreneurs Ireland Awards.

Social Entrepreneurs Ireland (SEI) is a not-for-profit organisation that supports people with new solutions to Ireland’s social problems.

SEI helps these individuals to increase their impact by providing financial funding along with technical and practical support. Every year, the Social Entrepreneur Awards allows start-ups to apply for funding, and up to eight people are awarded support in the end.

Over the past 13 years, SEI has supported 211 social entrepreneurs.

“It was this time last year we really considered putting in an application. The bit of funding is what attracted us initially and then as we chatted to past awardees we could see there was much longer lasting benefits to the programme,” Lyons said.

Since securing the funding, Lyons said the financial aspect has become quite a minor benefit compared to the other supports his team has received.

“It’s more about the business programme, the mentoring programme and the network to potential funders or clients has been really wide-ranging,” he said.

It has been a very positive experience for us, even the application process and going through the steps has been quite a learning process. Even if you’re not successful, there’s a lot of positives to get out of it.
It’s the act of actually putting your thoughts and your project down on pen and paper that makes all the difference.

Interested candidates can apply for the awards up until next Friday, 23 March, at 5pm and can find out more here.

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