If you’d said to 10-year-old Usman Mohammed that when he grew up he was going to teach people how to sail, you would’ve been met with a blank stare. But Usman’s is a story of what is possible when an unlikely opportunity can open a door you didn’t even know existed.
Rewind six years and Usman, then 12, is a pupil at Queensbridge School in Balsall Heath, one of Birmingham’s most socially challenged areas and home to the city’s largest Pakistani community. This is a world where watersports doesn’t exist and where boys have a very poor track record of breaking the poverty cycle.
By his own admission, school didn’t interest Usman; he was unhappy, had outbursts of anger and a lot of responsibility looking after his younger siblings at home.
"In school I was disengaged. Sailing helped me get confidence and courage to reengage back into school."
But, Usman’s Head at the time was Tim Boyes, a man who also chairs the Enterprise Sailing Trust, which helps young people from Birmingham communities like Usman’s positively re-engage at school. Usman was invited to go sailing with Enterprise Sailing on a local reservoir in a Pico, before joining them for a week-long trip on the Norfolk Broads a year later. Here his confidence grew and he proved to be a helpful, responsible crewmember.
In fact, so impressive was his attitude that the following year he was invited back as a Junior Leader, through which his boat management and aptitude continued to develop year-on-year as sailing turned his life around and became his anchor.
Now 18, Usman is helping to teach others to sail at our new Rockley Watersports Bartley centre and, having already gained his RYA Powerboat Level 2 certificate, is being supported in becoming a qualified dinghy instructor while employed by us. For the first time this summer, he also skippered a 22ft yacht on Enterprise Sailing’s Broads trip. Soon Usman will be able to teach sailing all over the world, with a wealth of further qualifications, career pathways and networking opportunities within the marine industry opening up before him.
Tim said: “Enterprise Sailing promotes social and cultural integration and gives vital life skills to young people with often complex family situations and who are disillusioned with education. The Trust is also passionate about opening up sailing to BAME and poorer urban communities.
"On his first Broads trip Usman was a young man who couldn’t express himself and wasn’t socially comfortable, but he responded well to adult attention in a way we hadn’t seen before. To now see him with the level of social confidence he has and following the pathway he is shows what’s possible when you break down barriers and provide an environment for young people to develop positive relationships and social skills.”