Volunteer Spotlight: Joe Roach

A young volunteer is standing in front of a large Ocean Youth Trust Scotland banner. He is holding the John Crawley Award - a wooden telescope with a plaque at the base.

It’s Volunteers Week and we are celebrating all of the wonderful people, both at sea and ashore, who make youth work on the waves possible.

Joe Roach, recent winner of our John Crawley (Young Volunteer of the Year) Award, sat down with us to talk about his experience of volunteering with the Trust.

Joe, how did you first get involved with Ocean Youth Trust (OYT) Scotland? 

My family has always been a nautical bunch, and the sea was a big part of my upbringing. From an early age my dad signed me up to sailing lessons at my local sailing club, and I absolutely loved it. As part of the club I was offered a place on an OYT Scotland trip in October 2019. 

Being the fourteen-year-old that I was, I felt quite smug that I had ‘graduated’ to a boat with steering wheels, let alone one that was sixty feet long. I was a massive fan of racing, which after a certain point dinghy sailing seemed to turn into, and I really enjoyed the communal aspect of the boat, and the exercise of sailing for its own sake.  

Fast forward 4 and a half years, and I’ve been a Bosun for two of them, and as of the end of last year, I am now a Watch Leader, which is both exciting and terrifying in near enough equal parts! 

In 2023, you took part in our Young Ambassadors Programme. What was that like? 

It was honestly one of the best experiences of my life. I learned so much, and saw so many awesome things, but I would be lying if I didn’t say that it was also the best sailing I’ve ever been a part of too. 

Before getting on Alba Explorer in Lerwick, I was told horror stories of the Minch, and the terrible monsters that live beneath its waves. I never thought for a minute that we would be cruising across it in shorts and t-shirts with the breeze behind us.  

The sea staff and the rest of the crew were some of the best company I could have asked for, and I’m really looking forward to sailing as a Watch Leader on this year’s Young Ambassador Programme trip. 

What’s the most important thing you’ve learned through sailing? 

I’ve probably learned more on boats than I have anywhere else on land, and not just from the skippers and first-mates, but the young people too.  

Beyond hoisting sails and all that faff, I think learning how to be yourself is really important, especially when trying to connect to the young people on board. Teenagers are especially equipped to sniff out authenticity, and by lowering our own barriers and facades, its much easier for them to do the same. Embrace your weirdness! 

Finally, what’s one thing you wish more people knew? 

How easy it can be to make a difference.  

I spent one week aboard Alba Venturer 4 years ago and I’m still harping on about, and I was lucky enough to have been on a boat before. The effect just a few people have had on the trajectory of the rest of my life so far is profound, and while some may have moved away from OYT Scotland, their impact still remains.  

Even when it’s just chit chat around the dinner table, or a game of cards when off watch, these memories last. When I was in London for the reception of the Queen Elizabeth II Platinum Jubilee Volunteering Award last year, I met another young person from a different charity in England, who as it happened had been on an OYT Scotland trip many years ago. He could list off the events of the voyage like it was yesterday, and so many of the ‘little’ bits of the trip were the ones that stuck out.

We are all making a difference, in so many ways in so many lives and I am very thankful for all the ways in which OYT Scotland has made a difference in mine. 

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