Swim England

A nation swimming

Swimming provides a ‘healing space’ for Swimunity’s children

The ‘need for a healing space’ has allowed for Swimunity Community Interest Company to provide the children of North Kensington, and now beyond, the opportunity to learn to swim.

Founded in the wake of the Grenfell Tower fire, Swimunity offers free swimming lessons to residents of its founder Sarraounia Samuels’ local community.

Sarraounia – an experienced swimming teacher and former competitive swimmer – wanted to start her own swim school which reflected the demographic of the community that she grew up in.

Swim England’s latest Value of Swimming report states that 4.5 million children would like to swim more often. However, persistent inequalities remain and whilst 74 per cent of children leave primary school able to swim 25m’s unaided, that figure falls to just over half of Black (51 per cent) and Asian (55 per cent) pupils.

Too many children are still missing out on a vital life skill, which is something that Sarraounia is desperate to help tackle.

She said: “I grew up swimming competitively for a swimming club but I never saw people of colour on the poolside.

“Swimming gifted me so much growing up. It gave me a place of safety, a place to process my emotions and also dramatically improved my physical wellbeing, keeping me fit and improving my respiratory condition of asthma.

“When the Grenfell fire happened, I lived on the estate next to the tower. I experienced the trauma of it and thought how can I help? What has helped me the most in times of grief? What will help to heal us and my community? The answer was, and still is, swimming.

Life changing impact

“I think now more than ever [people from minority backgrounds need to learn to swim] because when I learned, there were disparities but now the opportunities for some are almost non-existent, especially with the closure of swimming pools and with the shortage of swimming teachers and lifeguards. It’s becoming much more difficult.

“We run a Saturday afternoon learn to swim programme which is completely free, as well as the lessons being small class size numbers.

“This allows for the children to gain more than the skill of learning to swim but also a chance to reduce feelings of loneliness and connect with other children their age to experience the joy that comes with being in the water.

“It’s predominantly targeted at children from low income households but we’re also starting to get some children who are in care as well.

“Having these lessons has such a big impact on these children’s wellbeing; it’s genuinely life changing for them. We have found that many of the families we teach are not aware of the equipment needed to learn to swim, the process it entails and what they need to do in order to support their child in their learning journey.

“Many families come from generations of fearing the water. This is something which we aim to change through them seeing their child have fun and enjoy the benefits of swimming in a safe, nurturing environment.

“Through them seeing their children learn, they are then encouraged to use the local swimming facilities and experience the joy of swimming together.”

The Value of Swimming report also found that swimming is shown to have a positive impact on feelings of social inclusion.

Findings showed that swimming contributes £1.2billion worth of social value through the improved life satisfaction of swimmers and that joy of being in the water is something that Sarraounia can see every single session.

She added: “It gives them the opportunity to have something to look forward to each week and they get so much social value out of the time and make so many friends.

“That’s not just for the children but for the parents and guardians too. They get to meet other families and have that kind of support structure and that sense of community.

“It’s really rewarding and you do see a visible impact, not only on the child but the whole family.

“Learning to swim gives you so many other skills as a result. It boosts confidence and gives these children the joy which some don’t have a lot of in their life unfortunately.

“So to give them some happiness every week from the water is amazing.”

A sense of reward and achievement

As part of their recent growth, Swimunity have started running sessions for children in Hammersmith and Fulham and recently took some of their pupils on a trip to Cornwall where the children took part in exploring nature and trying new water-based activities such as surfing and coasteering.

“We wanted to start a yearly or annual residential to Cornwall because our children are all from inner city estates,” Sarrounia said.

“Many of the young people we serve go to the secondary school by Grenfell tower, so they’ve been through a lot of trauma. Getting to the outdoors, surrounded by the ocean, really allows the children to play and de-stress from the demands of inner city life.

“We took 11 children aged between 10 and 16 years old. On arrival, they all ran towards the water at the same time.

“Some of them haven’t been to the beach before so at first they were incredibly squeamish, but by day six they were laughing and sharing the joy of the freedom of rock pooling.

“We saw a huge change in the children’s confidence, self-esteem and belief in their own unique strengths. They were proud of their achievements in overcoming their fears and moving past their obstacles and created memories with their peers which will last a lifetime.”

Click here to find out how you can support Swim England’s ‘Don’t Put a Cap on Swimming’ campaign and you can read the full Value of Swimming report here.