The school holidays are finally here and there is no better time to get out with the family this summer whilst making the most of the glorious sunshine. The Mount Batten Watersports and Activities Centre, set in Britain’s Ocean City, has some of the best watersports facilities in the South West. Here at OM, we spent the afternoon at the Mount Batten Centre chatting to Centre Director, Alex King, about the history of the Centre, what watersports activities they offer and we even got to get out on the water ourselves!
The Centre sits on ex-MOD land which was used as a base for flying boats during and after the Second World War. After this, the peninsula was handed back to the local authority and converted from a Sergeant’s Mess to what it is now. The peninsula was very different back then and has been adapted and changed to make it how it is today.
The Centre first opened in June 1999 and has operated in a similar way ever since. The conversion of the Mount Batten Centre took a lot of thought and consideration. One thing that was carefully considered was the location of the launch and recovery site.
“Predominantly, apart from this year, the wind comes from the South West. This means that the launch and recovery site which is primarily situated here is protected from the winds.”
Centre Director, Alex King began his employment at the Mount Batten Centre in January 2010 after spending 12 years working in artificial winter sports around the country in the leisure sector. His initial aim was to drive the Centre commercially, so Alex took it in his stride to pick up and move forward, making a few changes along the way with a few challenges to tackle at the same time.
“It’s been a challenging and very interesting 8 and a half years.”
The Mount Batten Centre has come a long way since it first opened and although the day to day operation of the Centre is similar to when it first opened, many aspects are very different due to various challenges that the Centre has overcome.
Due to changes in government policy and funding; NVQs became unavailable to the Mount Batten Centre. One of the main winter incomes for the Centre was providing NVQ level 1 and NVQ level 2 opportunities for outdoor adventure to those that hadn’t met their full educational development or had faced challenges in early life.
“These NVQ opportunities were giving a lot of positivity to the people that went through that process, some of which went full circle so they did the original process and then came back into our instructional pool. So they had almost a second opportunity at forming a career path and forging a way forward.”
When government policies changed, funding for individuals became very hard and consequently, the Centre had to adapt and change. Moving forward, the Centre adapted to replace NVQs with BTECs as an alternative vocational, non-GCSE qualification. However, changes in educational policy two years later meant it was deemed compulsory for every child to do GCSEs and BTECs were scrapped. The consequences of this led to part of the Centre’s winter income being reduced again.
“So we’ve had to adjust, we’ve had to pull ourselves up. We could sit down and moan or we could get on and do it. We have had to diversify, we’ve had to tighten our belts and we’ve had to look at the opportunities and we’ve done that on several platforms and we are still doing it. So we created a charity”
In December 2014, The Mount Batten Centre Charity Trust was created.
There were a number of reasons for the change, one of those being due to the access restriction to what the Centre could deliver from the changes in government policy. Since the charity has been set up, it has created opportunity and positivity for a lot of young people’s lives; whether the barriers to them getting out on the water and involved in physical activity are physical, mental or financial.
“We’ve been able to bridge across those barriers in a number of ways and we’ve done that by fundraising for assets and equipment that will help those that would struggle otherwise.”
An example of equipment that is vital to the Centre and its dedication to helping young people is its fleet of three bellboats that can take up to 8 young people out on the water. These giant canoes are very stable vessels and they enable participants to work as a team, despite any physical or sensory difficulties they may have, and experience the positivity of being out on the water.
The Centre also has several giant stand-up paddleboards that allow those who wouldn’t have the confidence or potentially the ability to go on a solo paddleboard, the opportunity to get afloat and have the on-water experience. And with paddleboarding being one of the Centre’s most popular activities, it is vital that the Centre provides the opportunity for anyone to get out and experience paddleboarding.
In terms of more recent provision, the Mount Batten Centre is in the midst of their first major indoor activity being built; an indoor climbing wall. This will be a huge asset to the Centre, providing an all-weather activity space for young people using the Centre.
“We work closely with Woodlands School who love coming down here and engaging in what we’ve got, it does their students a lot of good. However, we have the UK weather and the number of times we can actually get them out on the water in term time between September and July is limited by the weather conditions.”
By having an alternative activity that is indoor, protected from the weather and that can be run and managed safely, there is then a degree of option for times when the weather isn’t playing ball.
The Mount Batten Centre offers a few other indoor activities including soft archery and team building. But watersports are the main focus for the Centre and with the summer holidays in full swing, the Mount Batten Centre has an array of activities available.
During the school holidays, the Centre provides Multi Adventure Days – perfect for adventurers aged 8 to 16 with activities ranging from sailing to stand-up paddleboarding, to climbing and abseiling. For younger adventurers aged 7 to 11 years the Centre provides a Multi Adventure Day, each colour-coded day has three different activities including abseiling, slacklining, soft archery and photo orienteering. For adults the Centre offers a wide range of Royal Yachting Association and British Canoeing courses, and they also provide popular 2 hour taster sessions in kayaking and stand-up paddleboarding.
The great thing about the Mount Batten Centre is that there is something for everyone aged 8 upwards, the possibilities are endless.
They provide all of the equipment including – wetsuits, buoyancy aids and spray tops, as well as ensuring an instructor is on hand at all stages for a safe and secure experience. So there is no need to worry about going out to hire the kit separately, it’s all included in the cost with safety being put first at every stage of the process. There is absolutely something for everyone at the Mount Batten Centre.
We couldn’t pass up the opportunity to find out what Centre Director, Alex King’s plans are for the Mount Batten Centre in the future:
“I think this facility is a massive asset to this city and it’s an asset that for large elements of the city is currently underutilised. I find it sad to think that there are school children within the Plymouth area who have never been in or near the water. I would like to expand and enhance what we offer, I’ve always had the aspiration that any young person going through their school career and education career should be given the opportunity to engage with what sets this city aside from many, many others which is that out there.”
“If you live in Plymouth, and you’ve not seen Plymouth from the sea then you’ve not seen Plymouth at its best. After all, it is Britain’s Ocean City.”
Alex concludes “With plans forging ahead to establish the UK’s first National Marine Park here in Plymouth we’re excited to be considered one of the city’s key stakeholders in the process. We look forward to what the future may bring for us at the Centre, and the city as a whole, and how we can adapt and embrace the concept so we continue to be able to do what we do best for many, many years to come.”
The Mount Batten Centre has the ability to host events and functions such as weddings, birthdays, christenings, engagement parties, conferences, etc. There are also 26 bedrooms at the Centre and as custodians of the Mount Batten Tower, the Centre can host wedding ceremonies at one of the oldest places in Plymouth you can get married (circa 1652)!
The Centre is also home to The Lookout that is open all year round serving food and drinks daily, situated on the South West Coast Path; it is perfect for those that want to sit out in the sun with a cup of coffee and a cake whilst enjoying the stunning views!
For more information about the Mount Batten Watersports and Activities Centre and what they have to offer, head over to their website on www.mount-batten-centre.com or call on 01752 404567.
Call: 01752 404567
70 Lawrence Road, Mount Batten, Plymouth, PL9 9SJ