Swim England

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Jane Nickerson: Heart of Aquatics is the beginning of our cultural change journey

Swim England chief executive Jane Nickerson explains why the Heart of Aquatics is needed to deliver the positive, safe, welcoming environment and culture we all want to see in our sports. 

In my 50 years as a participant, club volunteer, team manager, regional volunteer and now working for the governing body, I have been fortunate to see time and again the positive impact swimming and aquatics can and does have on peoples’ lives.

Nothing is more important than ensuring the safety and wellbeing of anyone who is involved in our sports and activities, in any capacity. It is the foundation on which everything else is built.

That is why we have launched our 2023 Safeguarding, Welfare and Culture Plan – Heart of Aquatics.

The plan is the beginning of our cultural change journey to ensure that all our sports and activities are welcoming and safe environments where everyone can develop and have positive, enriching experiences.

However, we have to be open and recognise that sadly not everyone has had that positive experience we want for them.

For that I am truly sorry. This sport is very dear to my heart and it is important to me that everyone has a safe and enjoyable experience.

It is also clear that people have felt unable to come forward to Swim England to express their concerns. That is something we must reflect on as an organisation, and change going forward by listening – but, importantly, also by our actions.

We need to take the necessary steps to create an environment where people can feel comfortable to speak out and report when they experience unacceptable behaviours or practices, knowing that we will take on board their views and provide the support and resources to learn from and act upon them

Some of this work has already begun.

Three pillars of work

For instance, we have expanded our safeguarding and welfare team as well as strengthening the mandatory standards for clubs. We are also creating a new Oversight Committee including independent experts to bring external expertise in safeguarding, welfare and organisation culture.

This will provide additional scrutiny and oversight in this important area and is a demonstration of our commitment to be open and to hold ourselves to account.

Furthermore, our new strategy, Access Aquatics, will be launched in 2023 and a fundamental part of that is to promote and uphold a safe culture and environment.

We know that what is needed is more than just procedures and policies, as important as they are. 

Heart of Aquatics is about the whole cultural change journey for our sports and this is something we cannot do on our own.

Everyone involved in our great sports must join the Board and Executive on this cultural journey to create the safe and welcoming environment we want everyone to experience.

We have set out three pillars for our work in 2023. Listen. Support. Resource.

Listening to the community and understanding what is taking place across the country is central to our plans to inform the required longer term actions.


We will commission independent experts to listen to our current and former members, parents, coaches, teachers, administrators and volunteers to hear and understand peoples’ experiences within aquatics and how this impacts on their lives. 

We want this process to be open and honest and we will remove the barriers to those who may not feel comfortable coming direct to Swim England by appointing independent experts to carry out this piece of work. 

My volunteer role as a Samaritans’ Listening Volunteer has shown me how important it is to allow people space to talk freely, without judgement or comment.  This is the service our experts will undertake and we will take back the learnings from this to make changes throughout the sport.


We will provide the support required by all parts of the aquatic community, in particular in the field of safeguarding and welfare to make sure that change is seen, understood and delivered by all involved in aquatics. 

We will ensure that we have the necessary mix of formal and informal training and education available to clubs, coaches and volunteers as well as to parents to empower them to feel able to report poor practices.


We have already begun the process of increasing the resources dedicated to safeguarding and welfare and we are committed to doing what is needed to ensure we have a positive and safe culture in place across all levels of aquatics.

Recent instances have shown in painful detail exactly why Heart of Aquatics is needed and if we are to be successful in this cultural change journey then we need everyone in aquatics, in any role, at any level, to commit to collectively doing everything we possibly can to deliver the positive, safe, welcoming environment and culture that we all want to see.

That change must start with us and everyone at Swim England is committed to playing our role.

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