This project started out like a little snowball, rolling down the hill – and it has just kept going and growing since,” says Joe Taylor, founder of charity the Wave Project. “We started as a small, local surfing project in Cornwall, funded by a NHS primary care trust. Now we operate in eight locations, receive grants from the Big Lottery Fund and are about to open two more sites – as well as our first surfing shop.”
The Wave Project runs surfing interventions for isolated young people and children with mental health issues. The aim is to encourage kids who’ve experienced trauma, anxiety or isolation to feel more positive and build their confidence and social skills.
“Our objective is to get kids from being anxious, nervous or shy and help them become confident enough to help other people involved in the project,” says Taylor. “We believe surfing’s a perfect hook for that, because it gets kids physically active, it’s seen as being cool and you get to be outdoors, which is important to kids with attention problems such as ADHD.”
Making a difference
The programme is based on each child having their own mentor – often an experienced volunteer surfer. The one-on-one contact, combined with the experience of learning a specialised skill such as surfing, can at times lead to extraordinary outcomes for children who find new confidence in themselves.
“On one of our first ever programmes there was this little lad called Sam, who was experiencing selected mutism,” Taylor recalls. “The condition is usually brought on by a traumatic experience or anxiety and results in the child losing the ability to speak.
“It’s not that they can’t speak, but they stop because their brain doesn’t engage the mouth. So Sam was entirely mute when he started with us. Then one day, I think in week three or four, he suddenly just started talking again. There he was, chatting away to his mentor in the water.
“At the end of the six-week project, his parents came to me with tears in their eyes and said ‘thank you, you’ve given us our son back’. Those kind of moments stay with you and the mentors for life.
“I believe people with mental health or anxiety problems, particularly kids, need to find their own way back to recovery. And that’s what we facilitate.”
Launched by Taylor with the help of a few volunteers in 2010, the Wave Project now employs 12 staff in tshe UK and will launch in Australia in 2017.
In addition to the NHS and Big Lottery Fund it receives funding from other sources, such as Children in Need, and private donations, but Taylor is keen to move away from being dependent on grant funding.
As part of diversifying its income streams, the Wave Project now also runs paid-for sessions for people who want to learn to surf and the charity opened a shop in the surfing Mecca of Newquay in May.
“It’s not a traditional charity shop in terms of people bringing stuff for us to sell,” he says. “We’re making our own products and launched our own range of T-shirts, hoodies and bags. We promote limited edition clothing by involving local designers.
“We want to try and move away from being entirely reliable on grant funding and prop up our income. If the shop is successful, we might do more of them in areas we already work in to underpin the projects.”
For Taylor, the expansion of the Wave Project and its new strands has brought new challenges.
“Personally, it’s been a big learning curve to figure out how to manage a project that has expanded so quickly,” he says. “It’s gone from something quite manageable and small to being suddenly this huge thing that’s being delivered all over the UK and expanding abroad.
“To track, manage and coordinate all this activity remotely from an office in Cornwall hasn’t been easy. There’s no management course you can do that teaches this you all this stuff.”