Over 450 shares have been sold to the public to help rescue a much-loved watersports centre


Hengistbury Head Outdoors Centre (HHOEC), on the shores of Christchurch harbour, closed during Covid, after decades of running sailing and adventure courses for the community. Now, in what would be the club’s 60th anniversary year, local groups are pitching together to try and save it. 

During its heyday in 2019, 10,000 school children and 5,000 adults used the centre, but following lockdown, the council-owned building fell into disrepair and was deemed unsafe to re-open. Operator Brockenhurst College pulled out, and sadly all outdoor education – including sailing – came to an end.

However, local users – including the Sea Scouts, Pink Champagne Dragonboat and Hengistbury Head Sailing Club (HHSC) – were able to continue on site by storing equipment in a shipping container. 

The clubhouse at Hengistbury Head Outdoor Centre was deemed unsafe to re-open following Covid. Photo: Ali Wood

Hopes for a lifetime lease

Hengistbury Head Outdoors (HHO), a community group committed to saving the much-loved centre, has applied to Bournemouth, Poole and Christchurch (BCP) council for a Community Asset Transfer, which allows them a lifetime lease. 

Simon Pitman, one of the 10 directors, explains: “Our mission is to rejuvenate the site, creating a sustainable, innovative yet tranquil space for ALL to participate in all forms of outdoor activity.” 

In addition to fundraising and seeking sponsors, HHO has launched £10 member shares, and now has over 450 members eligible to vote in the AGM. The plans have also been backed by BCP cabinet member Mike Cox. 

As a cabinet we are 100 per cent behind the transfer of the centre to HHO subject to the due diligence required,” he said.  

The tranquil outdoor centre at Hengistbury Head had been running sailing courses for almost 60 years. Photo: Ali Wood

HHSC is a unique sailing club where membership costs just £25 a year and members needn’t own a boat. Everybody is welcome, as long as they’ve got their RYA Level 2 qualification or equivalent.

PBO’s Ali Wood has sailed at the centre for many years. “It truly is a special place,” she said. “We see herons, nesting swans and wild ponies, and last week a grey seal even popped up to say hello! The club is friendly and inclusive, and the vast, shallow harbour, one of the safest places to learn to sail.”

In particular, the club reaches out to rusty and new sailors who wish to get on the water with minimal fuss or expense. Members must be over 12 and able to sail single-handed on Laser Picos or with a more experienced sailor on Quests, Hartley 12s or stable Wayfarers. Sessions cost £10, pay-as-you-go.

Appeal for grants

HHO hopes to have made significant progress by September but Simon acknowledges the wheels of bureaucracy ‘spin slowly.’ 

“We are reaching out to local and national bodies for grants as well as local businesses and the wider community… sadly, the centre and waterfront, including the slipways, have deteriorated quite badly so there will be a lot to do when we get the keys. We anticipate some temporary buildings, or a gradual rebuild of the centre as time and money allows.”

Hengistbury Head is a local beauty spot and an important site for wildlife and archeology. Photo: Ali Wood

The centre also accommodates Southbourne Canoe Club10th Mudeford Sea ScoutsPilgrim Bandits Injured Servicemen CharityPink Champagne Breast Cancer Dragonboat Charity and Bournemouth Outrigger Canoe Club.

To find out more about HHO, or to buy a £10 share, visit hengistbury.org.

To join Hengistbury Head Sailing Club and for the latest updates email chair@hhasc.com