Collaborative learning: social working at sea

This SIF funded project, Social Working at Sea, is an initiative to explore the possibility of developing a Sail Training Continued Professional Development (CPD) course which supports practitioners working with people from diverse and challenging backgrounds. The Plymouth Institute of Education with colleagues from the University of Plymouth’s social work department has collaborated with two sail-training organisations, Sailing Tectona and Horizons Plymouth, to create two events in which experts in both sail training and social work were able to come together to explore innovative and effective ways of developing the course.

The proposed course will provide much needed support for those in the sail-training sector, based on expert knowledge from academics in both social work and outdoor learning, as well as the expertise offered by Sailing Tectona and Horizons Plymouth. This means that, those who will benefit most from a positive, outdoor learning experience will have that opportunity with properly trained staff in both sail training and social work. On top of that, those who are working in the industry with a passion for sail-training will be given the support they deserve and need, so that they can continue in their role without risking their own wellbeing.

“People who are involved in sail-training, have often gone into it because of a love for sailing. However, this sector will involve them working with people from very challenging backgrounds, ranging from disabilities to recovering from substance abuse, which they probably don’t have the skills for. Because of that, a lot of people don’t stay in the sector very long; they have their own mental health problems because of the stresses and strains of working with people they don’t necessarily feel best equipped to.”

Alun Morgan, Plymouth Institute of Education

The events

  • The Tectona day: The first event was hosted by Sailing Tectona, the collaborative project developers, including experts from Plymouth Institute of Education, the social work department at University of Plymouth, Horizons and Tectona, were able to charter their boats as a floating platform for creative thinking around taking their idea for the course forward. They spent the day sailing and constructing how they would develop the course in an interesting and innovative way.

  • Horizon’s Plymouth event: The second event was hosted on board of Horizons Plymouth boats and was a bespoke sail training activity day event for the collaborative developers. This provided crucial experiential insight into the potential of sail training as a vehicle for outdoor learning and working socially for personal change.


The two events provided the opportunity to reflect critically about the needs of the sail-trainers and the volunteers, all building toward creating a course which will fulfil the needs of those working in the sail-training sector.

How Knowledge Exchange has benefited this project

It is not only those in the sail-training sector who will benefit from this project; through the Knowledge Exchange collaborations both within and outside of the University of Plymouth, connections have been made which will create more potential for innovative projects in the future.

“Through this initiative and how we’ve been able to develop it through the funding, there has been within the University of Plymouth an opportunity to work across faculty with people from social work. That’s a relationship which didn’t really exist and has now been strengthened. However, as this project is also outward facing, we devoped those links with key community-based organisations that we wouldn’t really have connections with – namely Sailing Tectona and Horizons – so that’s strengthened those relationships which have already proved quite fruitful.” Alun Morgan, Plymouth Institute of Education.

The future of the project 

Meetings are currently happening between the project developers in order to discuss the next steps for the project. In February 2019, there was a pilot Sail Training CPD course in essential and effective social seamanship skills; a proof of concept idea with a view to use that experience to build and develop the course for the future. In February 2020, there are plans to create a version of the course as an extended pilot, which will further develop across faculty links, as well as with outside agencies, and will build toward creating an accredited course.

“This project has created the opportunity to learn from the sail training world’s expertise as practitioners, whereas what strength we bring is an awful lot of academic work and writing but limited opportunity to do this in actuality. So, the relationship of academics and practitioners really does provide a fantastic synergy and opportunity to learn from each other and also some creative space to come up with some new ways of working.” 

Alun Morgan, Plymouth Institute of Education