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Inspiration aplenty at Wightlink’s online Meet and Greet as lockdown fails to curb enthusiasm

(4 February 2021) Heart-warming stories from Isle of Wight groups, charities and individuals supported through Wightlink’s community sponsorship programme have been shared at an uplifting virtual networking event hosted by the ferry company.

The video conference replaced the usual face-to-face Meet and Greet annual gathering at Quay Arts in Newport. It is an annual opportunity for Wightlink to catch up with individuals and representatives from the many groups and charities they support and find out about their achievements and activities.

Each year, Wightlink supports more than 60 sports teams, arts organisations, and charities with discounted travel – the objective is to enhance the quality of life on the Island, particularly for young people. The ferry company is also a key partner in the Isle of Wight Council’s Talented Athlete programme, providing discounted travel to 79 of the Island’s most gifted sports people.

As well as supporting with travel, Wightlink is always keen to highlight and share the successes of its partners through its Wightlink in the Community initiative.

Ten-year-old Martha Eggleton explained how her dad built her a ramp in the garden so she could keep up her skateboarding practice. Competitive swimmer Jenny Ball (who is in her 80s) said she has switched her training sessions from the pool to the sea. Steve Davis from Ability Dogs 4 Young People brought along Digby, a two-year old Labrador who is being trained up as a support dog.

Racing cyclist Joe Stanton organised timed laps of the Island for both the Wightlink-Wight Mountain Cycle Race Team and other professional cyclists. The Isle of Wight Skating Club held individual and group Zoom classes to help their skaters maintain fitness, flexibility, and coordination.

Everyone was delighted to hear of some successes, despite Covid restrictions. Champion discus thrower Nick Percy, retained his British title for the fourth time at the British Athletics Championships, helped in part by a cleverly constructed set-up in his garden involving nets and tarpaulins which helped him to train during lockdown.

Nick says: “I would usually be taking part in around 40 competitions a year, but these have largely been cancelled and even access to the track has been affected for most of the year.  I am just waiting now for the competitions to be able to open up again and, of course, hoping the Olympics will go ahead in Tokyo later this year.”

Many of the arts groups faced closure for much of the year, but most found ways of keeping busy and finding windows between lockdowns to stage pantos and other events.

Chris Slann and Frankie Goldspink from The New Carnival Company says: “With most events cancelled in 2020 we launched a virtual club in April and May, which engaged children and adults really well. We also put on some small face-to-face workshops between lockdowns which included us inviting Alexander D Great, Calypsonian-in-Residence at the BBC in London to deliver specialist classes and a live performance.

“In December, we presented ‘Merry & Bright’ in Ryde. This gave us the opportunity to work with schools and the local community to bring colour and light to the town for some socially distanced festive fun. It was a fantastic event that really brought Ryde to life after such a challenging time and we are really grateful for Wightlink’s continuing support.”

Wightlink Chief Executive Keith Greenfield adds: “It was truly inspiring to hear how our sponsored partners have been coping during lockdown; finding ways to stay motivated, new ways to train, or work or raise funds, and to hear about some of the successes and achievements they have had despite these challenging times, many of which we have been able to feature on our Wightlink in the Community Facebook pages.

“We are so proud to be able to sponsor them and it was also evident just how much our support means to them all. We were therefore delighted to extend our sponsorship through to the end of August 2021 in the hope that many of them would be able to travel again when restrictions are lifted.”

Summing up the online gathering, Jon Slater from Portsmouth Football Club who also joined the Meet and Greet says: “It was a heart-lifting, morale-boosting event.”