Gill Sherry

Back in the day, a huge number of Sea Cadet units were created with the specific intention of training young men to go to war. Today, the organisation is very different.

“Back then, they were trained how to march, shoot, Morse code and Semaphore and all that kind of stuff, so that when they turned 18, they just hit the ground running and were straight into the fleet.”

In fact, according to Kenny Bell, Commanding Officer of Ardrossan & Largs Sea Cadets, the Ayr unit was created in 1941 for exactly that purpose.

“Latterly, it’s not about that,” says Kenny. “It’s about giving every young person the best possible head start in life through nautical adventure and fun. That’s what we try and do. It really is about trying to give them the best start with life skills and experiences.”

Kenny first became involved with the Sea Cadets after being recruited through an article in the local newspaper.

“I got involved back in 2014 in Ayr. I’m ex-Royal Navy and I was volunteering with the Boys Brigade. I’d been doing that for about nine years and was enjoying the voluntary youth work. But the Sea Cadets has a thing called the Cadet Training Programme and I was quite taken with that.”

The training programme is a pathway for young people which takes them through various stages from the age of 12 up to 18. Each stage includes lesson plans, instructor notes and resources.

“As they progress they get promoted,” Kenny explains. “It’s rank based as well as being linked to BTEC and the Scottish Vocational Qualifications.”

In addition, there are other specialisations and proficiencies which are linked to real life skills.

“Specialisations include things like First Aid, navigation, engineering, catering, seamanship, physical training, and communication and information systems. Proficiencies include other skills and activities such as sailing, windsurfing, powerboating, kayaking, standup paddleboarding, rowing, hill walking and mountain biking.”

Three of the proficiencies are tied into the Royal Yachting Association, rowing is tied into British Rowing, and paddleboarding is linked to British Canoeing. So the youngsters take part in the activities with the Sea Cadets but gain qualifications with other national bodies.

Ardrossan & Largs Sea Cadets was established in 1992 by Bob Anson and was initially based at Erskine Church Hall in Saltcoats. They moved to their current premises in Harbour Road, Ardrossan in 2002.

“We’ve got a very good relationship with Clyde Marina,” Kenny tells me. “They’re very kind to us. During the winter we’re very much stuck in the unit but pretty much every Wednesday from May to September we’re out on the water, straight off the pontoon and into the boats.”

In addition to the Sea Cadet programme which takes 12 to 18-year-olds, they also run the Junior Sea Cadets for those aged 10 and 11. Of course, the programme is for all young people and no longer restricted to boys only.

“The Junior Sea Cadets have their own wee programme. It’s a bit lighter. It’s more about socialising and learning but with fun and games and creativity.”

Whatever their age, the youngsters are given experience to help them grow into the person they want to be, in a safe and friendly environment.

“We’re different from school,” insists Kenny. “We’re not there to sit them down at a desk, it’s very hands on… doing things, learning things. What the organisation is really good at is structure, discipline and routine. It teaches them self-discipline. That’s what the drill is for… keeping their uniform tidy, turning up on time. There’s a certain expectation. It’s not for every kid, we can generally tell the ones who buy into it and they thrive here.”

The Sea Cadets’ core values are Courage, Commitment, Self-Discipline, Respect, Loyalty, Honesty and Integrity. Although these values are based on those of the Royal Navy, they are equally important in everyday life and are vital for character building regardless of what career path a young person may follow.

The Sea Cadet Corps is a national youth charity but each unit is a charity in its own right. There are currently ten volunteers at Ardrossan plus another five trustees who look after management and governance. As with any charity, fundraising is a challenge.

“We get donations from local businesses and we sometimes arrange fundraising events. We used to do bag packing at supermarkets but now a lot of the tills have been taken away and it’s self-scan. That doesn’t lend itself very well to bag backers.”

The charity relies on the subscriptions paid by the Cadets themselves. At £3 per week (or £13 per month) it remains very affordable but the key is attracting the young people and then keeping them interested.

“A lot of parents bring their kids to us because they’re quiet and shy and introverted, or perhaps new to the area. Give them a few months and they totally come out of their shells. As they progress through the ranks they get communication, leadership and social skills. They get more confident as a result and we see them pop through the other end, ready for it.”

This is obviously really rewarding for Kenny and the other volunteers.

“It’s really satisfying, and that’s why we do it. We see a young person coming in at 11 or 12 and then we see them at 16 or 17 and we’ve helped in some way to shape them and mould them, hopefully put them on the right path, and helped them believe that they can achieve what they want to achieve.”

The Sea Cadets meet every Wednesday evening from 7pm to 9.30pm at 15 Harbour Road, Adrossan. During the summer they also arrange activities at the weekend and they also take part in other community events.

“Last year we had a big show of strength for the HMS Dasher memorial weekend,” Kenny tells me. “We will always commit to that and get involved in the Dasher events. We’re also out selling poppies the Saturday before Remembrance Sunday. Then we’ve got our two Remembrance Sunday events as well in Saltcoats and Adrossan. In addition to that we try and do some fun stuff when the weather is a bit better… a Saturday or Sunday afternoon boating, or some additional training at the unit.”

Kenny has been involved with Ardrossan Sea Cadets since 2019 and, together with the unit’s other volunteers, remains committed to helping young people achieve their goals. However, this is only possible with the help of others.

“We’re always needing help. Either volunteers giving up their time to help us, or businesses or individuals who are willing to help us financially. That’s our biggest challenge – keeping the lights on!”

If you are interested in volunteering, donating or joining, you can find Ardrossan & Largs Sea Cadets on Facebook. Alternatively, send an email to

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