Summer plans for multiple water-sports activities were overturned with the arrival of the covid-19 pandemic at the Helly Hansen Watersports Centre.
Thousands of school children normally participate in a variety of Watersports activities from April until July, with many more visiting the centre during the school holidays.
Evenings are filled with open water swimming sessions which attract around 1000 unique swimmers each year, alongside Paddlesport clubs, Sailing clubs, Wakeboarding, and evening group activities.
The Watersports centre, located by Salford Quays, offers a range of water-sports activities including kayaking, canoeing, and sailing, all of which are suitable for absolute beginners or for the more experienced water-sports addicts.
However, when PM Boris Johnson told the UK that people must stay at home and certain businesses must close on 23rd March, the centre also had to close.
Hollie Tatlock, Centre Manager of the Watersports Centre, explained: “We had to cancel everything from March onwards and close the centre as per government restrictions. The full-time team were then furloughed until June”.
During lockdown, she expressed her gratitude in having a dog, taking him on long walks most days to ensure they both stayed active, but was “very grateful to be able to return to work in June and re-open the centre”.
Upon her return, the usual water-sports instructors team of 15-20 was reduced to a dedicated team of only five.
Hollie described how hours increased, longer days were common, and the team had to work most evenings and weekends, which became a “challenge, both physically and mentally”.
Given the staffing restrictions and availability, the choice of water-sports had to be limited to Open Water Swimming, Kayak & Stand-up Paddle-board (SUP) hire and Wakeboarding.
Booking slots for Open Water Swimming were introduced with limited numbers, ensuring that social distance could be maintained and in order to comply with government guidance about online booking. The same applied for Kayak & SUP hire and Wakeboarding slots.
Despite the increased workload, Hollie recognised the positives, “For the first time, Kayak & SUP hire was available to book every day. We saw a huge increase in attendance”.
The centre successfully implemented a covid-secure online booking system accompanied by detailed booking instructions to help with booking on the new website which was launched just before lockdown.
Over the last few months, fears of infection alongside lockdown and restrictions pushed more people than ever online, and particularly onto social media.
Social media has played a great role in boosting the visibility of the Watersports centre online, and in augmenting the number of memberships and regular customers.
“Social media interactions increased as people are looking for things to do. Families shared pictures doing an activity which led their friends and family commenting and enquiring to make their own bookings”, said Hollie.
Looking towards the fast-approaching winter months, the centre manager seemed determined to keep positive, even though many of her friends in the industry have unfortunately lost their jobs, and many other outdoor centres already on the brink of closure.
She discussed the increased care for those attending sessions, being “responsible for implementing the ‘new normal’ in how we operate, having thousands of customers attend the centre, being responsible for the safety of those customers both in terms of water safety and now covid-19 safety too”.
The water-sports centre has faced anti-social behaviour issues before and during the covid-19 pandemic, particularly as there was a huge increase in footfall to the area of Salford Quays when there was warmer weather, schools were closed and limited activities elsewhere.
Be that as it may, Hollie praised the vital hard work of the team “I am lucky to have a great team who will go above and beyond” and says “we are already planning courses, sessions and preparing funding bids to make this winter a success”.
She concluded: “This season I have learnt and grown a lot both personally and professionally and that was down to covid and the challenges it brought”.