A young adult from South Shields near Newcastle, Kieran Maxwell, has dramatically turned his life around from years of drug and alcohol abuse, moving from hostel to hostel and a spell in a Young Offenders Institute to earn himself a prestigious award, The Torbay Cup, presented by Sail Training International for outstanding individual achievement and personal effort during The Tall Ships Races 2011.
Kieran, 21, sailed from Waterford (Ireland) to Greenock (Scotland) as a trainee on board the Spirit of Fairbridge, for the first leg of The Tall Ships Races 2011. The annual Race Series is organised by Sail Training International, a charity established to harness sail training to develop and educate young people, regardless of nationality, culture, religion, gender or social background.
Kieran’s childhood was unquestionably tragic which involved seeing his Dad imprisoned for manslaughter following the death of his Mum. Raised by his Grandparents, Kieran explains: “I went off the rails from the age of 16 and it has only been in the last six months that I’ve pulled myself together. I did a lot of Class A drugs, stole from people and committed crime to feed my habit of coke, ecstasy and anything else I could get hold of.”
Kieran has lived in 12 different hostels since his Grandparents kicked him out of home in an effort to make him take responsibility for his actions. It was in his latest hostel, The Tyneside Foyer, where he was introduced to the Fairbridge programme, part of the Prince’s Trust, which supported him to take part in The Tall Ships Races.
Every year around 8,000 trainees aged between 15-25 from around the world take part in The Tall Ships Races where they learn how to take responsibility for daily chores involved in running a ship from cooking healthy meals for everyone through to navigating, keeping watch, steering the ship and climbing rigging.
Despite having virtually no sailing experience, Kieran had no hesitation in undertaking the enormous personal challenge of life at sea. He explains: “I’d never even heard of The Tall Ships Races so went with no expectations. When I arrived in Waterford, it was an overload of senses with so many people and ships. I wondered how I was going to find my boat! I hadn’t met anyone else on board before but we all had to get on pretty quickly as there was work to be done. On the last day of sailing when we were just off the Isle of Man, the wind just came from nowhere. The gusts were so intense, there were 15ft waves! I was warned not to mock the sea but the bigger the waves the better. It was great seeing the team work together. I loved it!”
As part of winning the Torbay Cup, Kieran has been awarded up to 500euros of funding by Sail Training International towards another voyage. Mike Bowles a Race Director for Sail Training International comments: “Congratulations to Kieran on winning the Torbay Cup which has been awarded to him for the very impressive work ethic he demonstrated in addition to his personal ability to connect with the crew and other trainees. When I interviewed Kieran I felt that here was a very special young man. This is clearly reflected in the comments by his skipper for the voyage he undertook. There is a misconception that sailing is an elitist activity which certainly is not the case with The Tall Ships Races.”
Anybody aged 15 and above can take part regardless of background or physical ability and there is funding available to help young people to get involved. As well as being an enormous amount of fun and a chance to undertake a personal challenge, there is also the opportunity to develop team building and leadership and many other skills which can help in everyday life.”
Sailing has certainly made an impact on Kieran who has been invited back on board the Spirit of Fairbridge to train as a boatswain and will hopefully take part in The Tall Ships Races 2012. Campbell Greer Skipper of Spirit said: “Kieran has made excellent progress since embarking on the Fairbridge programme and is working hard towards his future. His work throughout the Tall Ships Race and being awarded the Torbay Cup is testament to his determination. The Fairbridge programme works with many young people such as Kieran, giving them the skills, confidence and motivation to change their lives, just as he is doing.”
There are lots of different ways young people can get involved with sail training in the UK and The Tall Ships Races including bursary schemes, approaching vessel operators direct or through the Association of Sail Training Organisations (ASTO).
Summing-up his experience, Kieran explains: “For the first time in my life I feel everything is going in the right direction. Since I’ve been back I’ve been thinking a lot about myself and my life in the North East. The important thing I’ve learned is that only you can make that change happen. There are opportunities out there but you are the one who needs to get off your backside and change your life rather than just moan about what a rubbish situation you are in. I can’t wait to do more sailing in the future and really appreciate the Captain asking me back as he said I had a good work ethic. I didn’t realise that I had so much energy - I was like the Duracell Bunny!”
About The Prince’s Trust
Youth charity The Prince's Trust helps change young lives. It gives practical and financial support, developing key workplace skills such as confidence and motivation. It works with 13-to-30-year-olds who have struggled at school, have been in care, are long-term unemployed or have been in trouble with the law. The Prince of Wales’s charity has helped more than 650,000 young people since 1976 and supports 100 more each day. Last year, more than three in four young people supported by The Trust moved into work, education or training. In April 2011, Fairbridge became part of The Prince’s Trust. The new united organisation will help 50,000 young people this year.
PHOTO: Kieran Maxwell, Spirit of Fairbridge Skipper, Campbell Greer and Mike Bowles MBE, a Race Director from Sail Training International