Norman Doney – Director of CYE
I was born in Hounslow, West London where my parents lived. I have two older brothers and we enjoyed a very happy and stable family life. My father worked in London as a civil servant. My mother left her job once my brothers and I came along. My golden memories of childhood are centred in the local park. West London is a built-up area but the parks are a godsend. The local one, Inwood Park was just through the alleyways, and I would spend all day there. My mum would let me out the door after breakfast and I’d return for lunch then go out again and back for tea. In the summertime we might possibly go out again after tea. We had so much freedom and enjoyed playing football, cricket and wide games, climbing trees – all really wholesome stuff. It was just great to be outdoors and playing sport pretty much all the time.
On my School Report it said about my football, ‘Many defences and half chances were well taken. Open goals proved his great weakness, though he was the leading goal scorer.’ Not much about Maths and English!
I went to the local primary school in Hounslow. From there I went onto Isleworth Grammar school. I couldn’t get excited about the academic side of school; I was more interested in sport and the outdoor life. As I grew up, I was greatly influenced by the boys’ camps we attended in Bristol. My brothers and I would travel by train from London to Bristol then hop into a furniture van. In those days, safety belts weren’t a consideration. Both bags and lads were loaded into the back of the vehicle, and we bounced around inside the whole journey until we reached our destination. The campsite consisted of rows of what looked like army tents and a whole program of sport and outdoor activities. I remember meeting new people who spoke with different accents to me. The programme had a strong Christian element with bible sessions, talks and discussions. It was run like an army camp with morning tent inspections, everyone had a title and everything was structured and ordered. But I loved being outdoors all the time, it was great. When I was about 15 we moved out of London to Woking, Surrey, where I attended Woking Grammar school.
Wherever my family lived we attended church. In Hounslow we went to Wellington Gospel Hall and in Woking we went to Emmanuel Chapel. In my teens I got involved in the youth work at church where they had a boys’ club with a good youth programme. When I was 17, I formed Maybury Athletic, a church football team made up of lads from the boys’ club and we joined the local league. This was one of my first experiences of leading, organising and orchestrating things, trying to bring a team together. There were a couple of funny moments when I struggled to fill the team sheet. I remember driving around town trying to find a final team player. I’d pounce on anyone who was free that afternoon, sign him on and play him the same day! It didn’t seem to matter that they weren’t actually registered with the team. Then there was one awkward moment when I had to ring up my mate Tom to tell him that although he wasn’t playing in the actual game he got booked the previous Saturday.
As I wasn’t academic, I didn’t go onto take ‘A’ levels. I saw the Careers Master who encouraged me to think about working in a bank because I was quite good at Maths! I got a job at Barclays Bank mainly because they had a brilliant sports department. I started off as a bank clerk then worked my way up into managerial and leadership positions. I was involved in mortgage offers for clients and lending money. I loved interacting with people. The bank gave me a structured career in finance within the organisation which has really stood me in good stead. I worked with Barclays for 17 years. In that time I joined the bank’s Consultative Committee and I ran the bank football team. I also joined the training team and enjoyed leading training courses for the bank.
More locally I came across another group called Christian Youth Enterprises (CYE), which ran events for young people from various churches. I was encouraged and influenced by people who were a bit older than me, really active, outgoing and sporty individuals (occasionally they drove fast cars which impressed me!). In the evenings we would relax after an active day with singing, discussions and talks – it was a complete package. I can still recall the names and faces of some of them who were possibly 5-10 years older than me. They encouraged me by their lifestyle, leadership and trust in God.
I think overall I’m an initiator, creator and orchestrator, someone who sees a need or an opportunity. That attitude really led me into CYE in the 1970’s. I was involved as a leader helping to run house parties and events for young people. Some leaders owned their own boats and we offered sailing as one of the events. It was at this time that I met a sailing family, David and Ann Edwards and their daughter Rosslyn, and we were married in 1979, and committed ourselves to working together as Christians.
In the 1980’s Christian Youth Enterprises continued to grow and develop as a charity and we were seeking to expand. Then in 1985, an ex-police sailing centre came up for sale in Chichester harbour, in the shape of an old 100 ft ex- Navy minesweeper with 35 beds. It was called the ‘Gerald Daniel’ (previously HMS Sidlesham), and was permanently moored at Chidham, near Chichester. The police had been using it but wanted to off-load it. We heard it was being sold for £50,000 which we didn’t have! We went to view it, met the police who owned it and had discussions with them. They said the ship itself and equipment was only valued at £8,000 and offered it to us for that. We were hesitant at first but after praying about it we took it on, not knowing what it would lead to. We bought the ship and rented the site with its facilities. We began by running youth events and sailing activities and let it out to groups and then started running summer camps. That was 38 years ago.
I continued to work in the bank for a few years, while trying to work out a way to develop this new Christian outdoor activity centre but the two weren’t compatible. Finally, I took the decision to leave my secure, solid career in the bank, with good benefits and step out into the unknown. We felt vulnerable at that point in time, in 1989, with our two young sons Chris and Charlie. It was a massive step to contemplate. We spoke with friends at church, family and other CYE supporters and prayed explaining that we believed the new CYE centre was something we could give our life and time to.
Rosslyn and I recognised God’s guidance, so I gave in my notice at the bank, gave up the mortgage we had with them and trusted God for the future. That was 34 years ago! We had a lot of support from Rosslyn’s and my family who understood the idea of mission and the importance of youth work. Rosslyn’s father David Edwards, an entrepreneur, engineer and problem solver gave us a great deal of support and advice.
It was a challenging few years as sadly Rosslyn’s mother and my father both died at age 53 and 72 respectively, in the early 1990’s, which affected us both greatly, whilst seeking to develop the work of the centre into a sustainable operation. Our third son Andy was born in 1991.
The ethos of CYE Sailing centre does what it ‘says on the label’ – it’s a Christian organisation, led by Christians who seek to live life to the full, both physically, spiritually, mentally and emotionally. The way we do that is through the programme of activities, which is sailing, water sports and kayaking. It includes different activities on site like games, sports, fun skits and sketches and also Bible talks and discussions. Over the years it’s incredible to think how many people have come through the CYE centre – it’s in the thousands and we see many grow into leadership positions. In the last 5 or more years we’ve had volunteers working here whose parents came in the early years as teenagers. Campers are now coming back, sending their own children or attending the Families weekend. You can tell from photographs what fun people experience here and what great memories they hold.
Within Cranleigh there’s a large number of young people who’ve been to the CYE Sailing Centre from local schools. Park Mead, St Nicholas School, (now Cranleigh Primary) and St Cuthbert Mayne have had school trips to the Centre for many years. It’s great as I go around the village, perhaps to a local cafe where someone recognises me and tells me they were at the sailing centre in 1992 and they’re now adults, sending their own children. Its reputation has gone far and wide, and many people have visited over the years. Some met their life partner at the Centre. Rosslyn and I have seen probably more than 30 weddings of people who met at CYE and we’re now seeing the next generation.
There’s a verse in John 10:10 in the Bible that says ‘I have come that they may have life, and have it to the full.’ that is CYE’s strapline.
Some of that ‘fullness’ includes some unique and amusing happenings. The sailing centre has a jetty to transport the boats down to the shoreline and launch them and to access the GD, the old accommodation vessel. One day I was working in the CYE office, on land when one of the young volunteers came rushing in saying, ‘Norman, Norman the jetty’s collapsed!’ I said, ‘Oh no, it can’t have. Just carry on, it’ll be fine.’ Only to discover later it had actually collapsed. The Royal Engineers took it on as a project with us and rebuilt a new wooden jetty.
On another occasion the ship broke its moorings and ended up on the bank. This 100 ft minesweeper was just stranded there, on the shore. We had to get it pulled down stream on the high tide before it could be relocated back in its rightful position.
A while ago we worked with young offenders who were in institutes and came to the Centre to do outdoor activities and team building activities in readiness for release. When a group of them were staying once, 2 of them decided to escape and make a run for it. We had a very stressful night out looking for them. We searched high and low only to find they’d given up and gone back to bed without us noticing! The police turned up at 5am in the morning to arrest them.
We have also had the joy of being featured on “Songs of Praise” with Alan Titchmarsh in 2001, and hosting a visit by Princess Ann in 2013. She is president of the Royal Yachting Association and we are a flag ship centre.
We’re very thankful we’ve always had a great safety record. When running outdoor activities it’s always a big issue with the challenges they represent and the sense of risk within a contained environment. We’ve added all sorts of things at the Sailing Centre so we no longer do just sailing and kayaking. We have a tunnelling system where young people climb through a maze of tunnels in the dark and play hide and seek games. We have an assault course, archery and a sports area. It’s been amazing to watch how things have developed over time.
Over the years as funds have accumulated from charitable giving, from individuals and grants, we’ve managed to add to the facilities. In 1990 and 1997 we replaced some wooden shed buildings with new buildings giving us proper changing facilities. Then in 2011 we replaced the old wooden Navy minesweeper, the Gerald Daniel (fondly known as the ‘GD’) with ‘Resolute’.
Essentially, we bought a barge in 2008, had a naval architect design its refurbishment, then David Edwards and I worked together to make it happen. Finally, the new ship ‘The Resolute’ was commissioned in 2011 at a cost of £1.1m raised through trusts and individuals. The full story of this amazing project can be found in the booklet “A tale of two Ships,” available from the CYE office.
We are always seeking to improve and develop and presently are in the process of finishing off another major building on site costing £2.2 million. This will provide modern staff accommodation, changing facilities, meeting room and kit store.
This recent project Delta was kickstarted by a generous donation from an individual who wished to support our vision. We used that money and matched it to come up with the £2m required to deliver modern, safe and comfortable facilities that are only a month or 2 away from completion.
It’s felt right to step into these challenges and God has provided the money, the skills and people to get involved. It’s not just about the money, we’ve got a big volunteer base of about 100 people helping with activities, maintenance and catering.
Through my role at the Centre I’ve grown into different leadership positions. I’ve found myself involved in leadership at my church, in directing a major project to rebuild Cranleigh Baptist Church and more recently taken on an international role. I’ve had the privilege of being involved with Christian Camping International (CCI), as their interim International Director for two and a half years. They support Christian centres across the world. Just this past month I led a CCI conference in Holland for 175 camp leaders from 30 countries. It’s been exciting to be involved internationally and embrace other cultures, languages and landscapes and to see Christian camping being effective in these settings.
In terms of what keeps me going, I’m a very active person, I never could sit still in school and I still can’t. I’ve been driven by the opportunities that have opened up working with others to see people really have a great time enjoying an activity and benefitting from something I’ve contributed to. I’d like to continue to do that. I’m now at a stage where I’m winding down my work levels and hope to work more ‘half-time’ in coming years. To coin a phrase, they say in Christian life ‘there’s no such things as retirement’ so I’ll see what doors open up and in what ways I can use my experience.
Although I was a founder of the CYE Sailing Centre, at 68 years old, I’ve been passing on the baton of leadership on the operational side of things. I’ll continue to be involved on a part-time basis as an advisor, supporter and encourager. A large part of my work over the last few years has been raising funds for the project so I’ll continue to do that with capital projects.
The central guide and compass of my life has been my faith in Jesus as a Christian. A lot of the activities and organisations I’ve mentioned are Christian based or have a Christian ethos.
We’re thankful to still be here, continuing on and looking forward to working with many more young people, families and groups in the future as we get closer to celebrating 40 years.