Sailor, author and broadcaster Tom Cunliffe has thrown his support behind a campaign to 'Save Weir Wood Sailing Club' in East Sussex and help to fund their legal battle.

Weir Wood Sailing Club (WWSC) is a volunteer-run sailing and windsurfing club, located on the edge of the Ashdown Forest, just over three miles from East Grinstead, that makes sailing accessible, affordable and fun.

The club is a recognised RYA training centre and was previously awarded the RYA ‘Club of the Year’ distinction. The community-based club has helped to get the NTC, Young Epilepsy, GCSE students and Duke of Edinburgh candidates out on the water.

The club is also renowned for being a competitive racing club, with many club members holding national championship titles and competing at national and international level.

Dinghy sailing at Weir Wood Reservoir Sussex

Sailing at Weir Wood Reservoir Sussex. Credit: Chris Mole/Alamy

‘Defending its existence’

A statement on the club’s fundraising page says: “Two years ago, our landlord WWE [Weald Water Enterprises] was taken over by a new owner. From the very start of this change of ownership, our ‘new’ landlord made it clear that we are not part of the development plans for the site, despite us having a 50 year lease which had been agreed with WWE in 2015, less than 10 years ago.

“We have now reached the stage where we face cases in the County Court, including for tiny (or even fictional) alleged breaches of our lease terms which, if we were to lose, would mean that the club would forfeit its lease, cease to exist and the Trustees and Committee could face financial jeopardy for seeking to defend its existence.

“We strongly believe, based on the legal advice that we have received, that the claims made against WWSC are unfounded and, properly fought, will fail in their aim to evict us from our longstanding and rightful use of the site.

“Of course, the decisions of Courts are never 100% certain and WWSC needs additional funds available to it to ensure that it has adequate money readily available to pay all of its legal costs, and also to pay damages in the event they are awarded against us.”

The crowdfunding campaign has so far raised more than £11,000 of a £100,000 target with 29 days to go.

‘A great little club’

In a heartfelt video about the campaign, Tom, who has the YouTube channel Tom Cunliffe – Yachts and Yarns, said: “During the winter I do a lot of lecturing, I go around the clubs.

“Some of them big and famous, some of them very small.

“I enjoy them all because I get to meet people. I get to see what people are really doing, which is important for me and I love it.

“Now then, most of the clubs I go lecturing with are on the coast, their members are mainly people who have yachts and their members go cruising, some of them sail around the world, some of them just sail in the Solent between Southampton and the Isle of Wight, it doesn’t matter, we all love it.

“We’re all out there bending the wind to our purposes and making the boat go.

“But the people in the clubs always say the same thing to me. They say: ‘What are we going to do about the youngsters? We’re not getting the youngsters in here, there’re lots of us and we’re all of a certain age.’

“But the fact is, you’ve got to get to a certain age before you’ve got enough money to buy a boat, unless you’re totally dedicated and prepared to put your whole life into a boat. But it’s not for everyone is it?

“So you’ve got to wait until you’ve got some money. So what about the young people? What about the children?

“Well, you find them in little sailing clubs around the place.

“And I got a commission last year to come and talk to a club called Weir Wood Sailing Club.

Sailor, author and broadcaster Tom Cunliffe

Sailor, author and broadcaster Tom Cunliffe

“Now, Weir Wood Sailing Club is a great little club, it’s just south east of London, in the countryside, it’s in a great big forest really, and you come through the trees and you burst out and there’s this wonderful lake – it’s actually a reservoir.

“And in the lake there are boats sailing and a little clubhouse at the end, and that’s Weir Wood, and it’s a great little club.

“It’s an RYA-affiliated training establishment. They got the best Club of the Year a few years ago, they race, they send some of their racing people to international competitions, and they’ve got a lot of national champions amongst their members.

“But they’re also bringing on the children, the young people, they’ve got a massive sort of school thing going on there.

“And it’s great to see all these little kids so full of enthusiasm, going down to go sailing.

“And this is their chance, this club is giving them their chance and in doing that it’s giving us all a future. There’s going to be sailing going on for a long time while little clubs like this are in existence.

Continues below…

Video still of Weir Wood Sailing Club from Tom Cunliffe - Yachts and Yarns

Video still of Weir Wood Sailing Club from Tom Cunliffe – Yachts and Yarns YouTube channel

“Now, here’s what’s going on.

“They lease their property, their clubhouse and everything and their landlord has decided he doesn’t want this little club here, with these nice people going sailing, quietly enjoying the facilities and staying out of everybody’s way.

“They want to develop it, as they say, and have wonderful outdoor facilities and then people will pay good money to go and be part of it.”

He added: “Suffice to say, that the landlord is trying to get rid of this little sailing club and they’ve hired lawyers to try and do this for them – and they’ve been peppering the club with not very nice communications, explaining to them how they are breaching the terms of their lease and so, by doing this, they’ll be able to scrap the lease and just get rid of the club and that would be the end of it.

“And so here’s the problem.

“The members of the club, on the committee, are not rich people. They’re people like you and I, and suddenly they’re up against this corporate machine and the money they require to fight it, it’s frightening really.

‘They’re going to have to go to court.

“If they go to court and lose the case, the club will definitely close down. It’s even possible that some of the people who are trying to save it will take a terrible hit, might even be ruined.

“Now, we can all do something about this, we can join their crowdfunding scheme, to just pledge a bit of money.

“It will also give them confidence to fight the case, knowing that they have the money behind t hem, they can go into court with really good lawyers and fight the people and try to keep sailing going at Weirwood lake.

“It would be a great thing if we’re all able to join together and do that. Let’s do it.”

Attempts to contact Weald Water Enterprises have so far been unsuccessful and the address listed in Companies House is a registered office service for people who wish to protect their privacy.

East Sussex County Council has said: “The council are only involved in the ecological management of a section of the reservoir, designated as a Local Nature Reserve.
“Sorry we can’t help further on this occasion.”

A spokesperson for Southern Water said: “Southern Water shares the aspiration both parties have of improving opportunities and accessibility for the wider public at Weir Wood Reservoir.
“We have asked Weir Wood Sailing Club and the tenant to work together to seek a resolution so everyone can benefit from what could be an exciting future for the site.”