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Altrincham Swimming Club detail their 'open and approachable' environment

As part of Swim England’s aim to increase diversity within aquatic sports, we have spoken with a number of clubs who have endeavoured to actively engage their local community and ensure their clubs are welcoming environments for all. 

An ‘open and approachable’ environment at Altrincham Swimming Club has meant the club has successfully engaged current members and welcomed new swimmers through their doors.

The Manchester-based club made it their mission throughout the last 18 months to engage their local community and ensure their success as a club could continue long into the future.

Club chair, Anne Cotterell, detailed some of the actions they took, saying: “We reached out to local schools and posted on social media advertising our club trials and also publicising the fun challenges the swimmers’ were involved in over lockdown to raise the appeal of the club.

“We have been active in collaborating with our local leisure centre to identify swimmers from school swimming and leisure centre swim well programme.

“We have agreed our criteria to look out for, with swimming teachers inviting their chosen swimmers to the club for a trial.”

The difficulties caused by the coronavirus pandemic meant that the club changed tack.

“We pivoted during the pandemic to not only maintain engagement of existing swimming squads but also welcoming siblings, parents and children from other swimming clubs to participate in a friendly, multi-week competition – Challenge 19.

“This was not only to encourage a good level of fitness but also to maintain the club ethos of nurturing swimmers, many of whom would have found lockdown very challenging.

“In order to engage a wide range of diversity we hosted a programme of out of pool activities such as land training, Challenge 19, Sunday evening zooms with each squad during lockdown.

“This really supported our drive to further increase representation across age, ethnicity and ability.”

‘Key focus is local schools’

Cotterell explained that utilising local schools to identify new swimmers has been key for them, saying: ” Our key focus has been all groups from a range of local schools, to ensure full representation of the local community.

“Our key criteria is the ability to swim three strokes over 100m with good technique.

“This ensures open access to the club whilst safeguarding that the individual is demonstrating sufficient ability, is ready to benefit from club level swimming and possesses the potential to progress in the sport.

“We focus on identifying swimmers at an early stage (7/8 years old) so the club can shape their development.”

‘We celebrate our swimmers and their achievements’

The club also actively endeavours to remove some of the barriers that prevent individuals from participating in aquatic sports.

“Swimming can be an expensive sport, which can present a barrier to poorer economic backgrounds.

“The club has systems in place to support families who may be struggling financially. This has been particularly important during Covid.

“We are open and approachable and seek to reassure parents that their concerns will be listened to and all questions answered.

“We work with Trafford Leisure to ensure that the pricing and timetables are inclusive and we have mechanisms to help families who might be in financial difficulties.”

In addition, Altrincham celebrates the older swimmers in the club and positions them as role models for the younger generations.

“We celebrate our senior swimmers as role models to inspire the younger swimmers. We celebrate the achievements of our swimmers in all levels of swimming events as well as their achievements outside of the pool.

“We have two para-swimmers who have been long term members of our club who win medals at para-swimming competitions and the Special Olympics.  The club is extremely proud of their hard work and achievements.”

When speaking about their short-term plans, Cotterell said: “We plan to appoint a PR officer to reach out to local communities and explore sponsorship opportunities which would fund swimmers from poorer economic backgrounds.

“We also plan to look further at the inclusivity of our club in terms of ethnicity, disability and economic profile.”

Foundations of Inclusion

One of Swim England’s key aims is to increase ethnic diversity throughout all aquatic sports and as the national governing body, we are endeavouring to tackle some of the boundaries that prevent individuals from participating.

As a result, Swim England is currently creating a ‘Foundations of Inclusivity’ CPD which will be used to upskill members across the aquatic community including club members, volunteers and officials.

The CPD will primarily focus on the three areas of disability, ethnicity and LGBTQ+ and will look at the correct approach to inclusion along with terminology and sources of further information.

All aspects of the CPD are being co-produced either directly with partner organisations such as Pride in Water and International Mixed Ability Sports (IMAS) or utilising insight produced by organisations such as Sporting Equals.

The CPD is currently being developed ready for launch in October 2021. To register your interest, please fill out this form.