BME swimming makes a splash





While many people will pack up their swimming costume and head for the local pool when they fancy a dip, for others it's not quite as simple.

For some religion the need for females to protect the core of their culture is sacrosanct, and that can mean that a public leisure centre session is a no-go.

So what's the solution?

Well, in Swansea they've found one that works.

Back in September 2014 a project was launched at Bishop Gore school swimming pool that sees a dedicated community session run for an hour every Wednesday evening.

To ensure no compromise on cultural and religious beliefs, the session has a female lifeguard, a female Level 2 swimming teacher and a female Level 1 swimming teacher.

The session is split into two parts. A structured swimming lesson for those who need to learn and improve their swimming, and a leisure swim for those who can already swim.

Louise Snelgrove, the Active Young People Officer at Swansea Council, set up the session with Swansea-based EYST (Ethnic Youth Support Trust). The initial focus was to target BME girls from Bishop Gore and Olchfa schools to access swimming during community time, and it is advertised on the 5x60 programmes at the schools.

Initial predictions were that the majority of the sessions would be made up of girls from Bishop Gore and Olchfa aged between 11-16 years old. However, the majority of the sessions have been attended by women aged 35 plus.

The women and girls book through the EYST office based in the city centre.

Louise Snelgrove commented:

"Although the session was initially aimed at the 11-16 aged pupils in Bishop Gore and Olchfa we thought it would encourage the girls more to attend if they could come with their mums or aunties, which is why the session is also open to women aged 16 years and above.

"The sessions are advertised on the 5x60 programmes as well as through EYST."

When the project expanded following the initial success, funding of around £1,000 was secured from the BME 'Kick Start' development grant via the Sport Wales regional office.

30 sessions have been held in total since September 2014. The capacity of the pool is 32 at any one time and the average attendance has been 28 women and girls attending each week.

Shehla Khan, EYST Manager said:

"To be able to learn to swim is a skill most of us take for granted but the sessions have given some women an opportunity they have never had. It's a huge health benefit for many as it's a great form of exercise and fitness and, due to a lack of women only facilities in general, women from a BME background have limited choice in accessing services.

"The social aspect has been great for the younger girls who have had the opportunity to come and have leisure swimming and play in the pool with their friends; again an option we all take for granted but is not readily available to all members of our community.

They have thoroughly enjoyed these sessions and have improved their swimming skills through play, diving and learning to perfect their swimming techniques.

"The location has played a key role as it's an accessible distance for most mums and daughters as well as the biggest factor being the friendly female only staff that have been provided by 5x60 and Louise and her team. The ladies and girls have enjoyed learning from the very friendly teachers.

"The success of the programme speaks for itself, a great turn out and huge demand for it to continue."


Key Success Factors

1. EYST's close connection to the BME community and booking onto the sessions is solely through their office.

2. The sessions provide opportunities for women and girls to either learn to swim or improve their swimming, with qualified level 1 & 2 swimming teachers. One teacher is in the water teaching the non-swimmers, which puts the women at ease and it makes them feel safer when someone is in the water with them.

3. The session also allows women and girls that already swim access to a leisure swim in a pool with no windows and a female lifeguard, which is difficult for the other leisure pools in Swansea to offer.

4. The sessions are not free but are subsidised by grant funding.

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