Research project charts the long-term impact of Sea Cadets participation

Derren Hayes
Tuesday, April 27, 2021

Survey identifies how being a member of the uniformed youth group has helped generations of young people to progress in a range of life outcomes.

Generations of former Sea Cadets participants reported a range of developmental benefits to being members. Picture: Justin Sutcliffe/Sea Cadets
Generations of former Sea Cadets participants reported a range of developmental benefits to being members. Picture: Justin Sutcliffe/Sea Cadets
  • Name My LegaSea project
  • Provider Sea Cadets

The My LegaSea project captured the views of more than 3,000 individuals aged from 18 to 92 who had been a member of the Sea Cadets. It gathered information on the impact of Sea Cadets during the person’s affiliation period and into their adult lives through a survey and face-to-face interviews and focus groups.

The project comes at a time when much of the focus for measuring the impact of youth work is on short-term outcomes defined by funders and commissioners, and less on the long-term benefits of participation.

My LegaSea is the first UK-wide, multigenerational study into the long-term impact of Sea Cadets’ work with young people, charting changes in how young people from different generations perceived the benefits of engaging with the charity.

Sea Cadets is sponsored by the Ministry of Defence but runs as an independent charity. It teaches young people nautical skills through a national training programme built around rank progression, specialisations and proficiencies and a consistent ethos built on the traditions of the Royal Navy.

All generations shared a belief that Sea Cadets had a consistent beneficial impact on their adult lives. Among former members, four key impacts of Sea Cadets were found:

  • 80 per cent said it developed their independence and skills
  • 70 per cent said it improved their ability to cope with challenges
  • 54 per cent said it helped progress their careers, and
  • 45 per cent said it contributed to their long-term wellbeing.

When broken down by decade cohorts the data revealed younger survey participants identified higher impact in specific areas.

For example, Sea Cadets generating engagement in the local community increased from 16 per cent among the 1940s cohort to 62 per cent in the 2000s cohort. Sea Cadets helping to gain qualifications rose from an average of 34 per cent across the 1940s and 1950s to 77 per cent in the 2000s cohort. Participation supporting long-term wellbeing increased from 63 per cent in the 1940s to 75 per cent in the 2000s.

On the other hand, analysis revealed a waning in the impact of Sea Cadets in relation to keeping members out of trouble among younger respondents: from 63 per cent in the 1940s to 40 per cent in the 2000s. The report states that the impact of being a Sea Cadet could be a factor in this decline.

The survey also asked respondents to think about the impact that being a Sea Cadet had throughout their life. Here again independence and skills emerged as the most significant element across all ages, with four out of five citing this, followed by 70 per cent for learning to cope with challenges. Benefits to career (54 per cent) and wellbeing (45 per cent) were the next most cited.

Among younger age groups, the impact of participation was strongly associated with learning skills that would be useful in future employment. For example, progression on to higher education increased from 21 per cent in the 1940s cohort to 49 per cent among the 2000s cohort; career progression from 42 to 62 per cent; and ability to cope with challenges rose from 58 to 73 per cent.

Two areas showed movement in the opposite direction. Careers in the Royal Navy decreased from 42 per cent among the 1940s cohort to 17 per cent in the 2000s, while careers in the wider maritime sector went from 21 to 15 per cent, trends, the report states, “that may reflect the decline in the number of naval and maritime vacancies during the intervening years”.

Theresa May MP, who is president of the Sea Cadets branch in her Maidenhead constituency, said the research illustrates how participation changes lives and “inspires learning and personal development in its members”.

About Sea Cadets

  • The Sea Cadets movement dates back to 1856 when sailors returning from the Crimean War established the “Naval Lads’ Brigades” in a number of ports
  • Sea Cadets has around 15,000 cadets across the UK, engaging young people from nine to 18
  • The median length of stay for a young person is two years and two months, with an average joining age of 12 and leaving age of 14
  • There are around 9,000 adult volunteers providing a high ratio of adult volunteer to young Sea Cadets, which is replicated in very few other youth work settings
  • Sea Cadets is a federation with over 400 local units run as independent charities by volunteers

Source: My LegaSea report, Sea Cadets, February 2021 www.sea-cadets.org/

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