A STAFFORDSHIRE Moorlands man who has driven the quest to build a £550,000 state-of-the-art training centre and boathouse for disabled sailors has had his efforts recognised with a national award.
Dennis Priebe has received the Exceptional Contribution award from sailing's governing body the RYA for his work with Rudyard Sailability.
Mr Priebe, himself a wheelchair user after suffering a spinal injury in 1993, was instrumental in founding Rudyard Sailability 12 years ago and is its chairman.
The honour was bestowed at the annual RYA Sailability Volunteer Awards.
Mr Priebe said: "I'm ecstatic to have been given this award. I'm even smiling and I'm supposed to be grumpy.
"I would like to thank all the volunteers who helped with this project without whom this award would not be possible.
"So far we've received no Sport England or Lottery funding. We tapped into one European fund but everything else has come from private investment, donations, bucket funds, buy a brick and fund-raisers; you name it we've probably done it.
"We've relied so much on goodwill and volunteers, and their efforts and generosity can only be described as extraordinary."
Mr Priebe has transformed the Rudyard site from a "shed" to become a venue for all.
In the past 18 months alone he has raised more than £400,000 towards the new facilities, spending days and nights at the site in sub-zero conditions last winter overseeing the project.
While work continued last year, Rudyard Sailability ran shoestring activities for the local special schools, social services users and the Aiming High for Children with disabilities project.
But having now achieved official RYA Training Centre status, this season will see the centre bid to achieve its aim of full family inclusiveness and sailing for all.
Some of the highlight features of the new facility include a remote sensor controlled 4ft wide solid wood entrance door, designed specifically to enable fully-ventilated users with the biggest wheelchairs hassle-free access, an interior painted in contrasting yellow and blue following recommendations from visual impairment groups, and open space and kneeholes designed in consultation with mobility groups.
The building also has two hearing loops, while sensors and finger tip touch for access is commonplace throughout.
Jackie Griffiths is Rudyard Sailability Secretary, and her daughter Tilly, who has Spinal Muscular Atrophy and is a full-time wheelchair user, is a regular Rudyard sailor and now also teaches others to sail.
Jackie said: "This facility simply wouldn't exist if it wasn't for Dennis.
"He's been project manager, site foreman, he's wheeled and dealed and just not taken no for an answer from anyone.
"Despite impaired mobility himself, Dennis and up to 20 volunteers each week were digging trenches, laying stones, everything and anything in spite of sub-zero Arctic conditions last winter. He thoroughly deserves this award."
Debbie Blachford, RYA Sailability Manager, said: "Dennis' total dedication, commitment and determination have made this project successful and he has ensured disabled people are part of the management committee and board of trustees, so disabled people have a voice in every decision of the project.
"He lives and breathes Rudyard Sailability, and his vision of accessible sailing for all. I can't think of a better role model for accessible sailing and volunteering."
To find more about learning to sail and getting involved at Rudyard Sailability this year visit www.rudyardsailability.org.uk