We held our first intro to outdoor swimming event on a sunny Sunday, 13 September 2020, at a private venue on the river Thet, five miles east of Thetford. In total 48 people participated in the four sessions throughout the day, with almost everyone getting in and swimming in the chilly water, some even jumping in. The event was for those who were new to or had not yet tried outdoor swimming, and the lifeguard cover and other support gave people confidence to try something new which they might not have done otherwise – even jumping!
Volunteers – local swimmers with a range of swimming experience and knowledge – helped in the practical running of the event and talking to participants, encouraging them, answering their questions, and getting in the water first as an example and inspiration.
Safety of participants and volunteers was assured by risk assessment, lifeguarding, insurance cover, pre-event conditions and advice to participants on risks, cold and water quality. We tested the river at the event venue for Bathing Water quality in advance of the session, using EU BWD aligned bathing water quality standards and an accredited UKAS lab, and the result of testing samples taken 2 September was ‘Excellent’.
Participants learnt – at the event and in the information we provided – about keeping themselves safe, how cold affects them and how they can cope, how to assess a place for swimming. People clearly enjoyed the day, coming out of the water with smiling faces, and feedback from the event in evaluation forms, emails and on social media has been very positive.
The focus of the training was on having a go, with people learning by doing as well as briefing and discussion within the session, and we have followed up with a note giving more detailed information. It covered safety, risks, benefits, care for the environment, and what options there are for further swimming and where you could do it, including by joining a local Facebook swim group, Outdoor Swimming in Breckland (not part of the project). The note is available on this website https://www.imogensriverswims.co.uk/blog/issues/z-more-info-on-outdoor-swimming-september-2020/, or as a downloadable Note (8 pages Word.doc)),
Enthusiasm and applications for the event far exceeded demand, and we have added 100 people to our mailing list to hear about future events and to get other updates on the project and all of the BFER projects. More events are planned for 2021 and 2022. Sign up to get involved in the project – Contact me and say you would like updates – or to hear about future events in this or other projects sign up for BFER updates and newsletter here
A key purpose of the Healing Waters project and all of The Brecks Fen Edge and Rivers Landscape Partnership Scheme (BFER, http://www.brecks.org/BFER/) projects is to promote and to study the benefits of engaging with nature and outdoor activity. So we asked participants to take part in pre-event questions and post-event evaluation, and we also conducted further surveys at the event, and will be following up after an interval to gauge any benefits from participating.
We emphasised that participating in the survey was voluntary and that we hoped they would like to be involved. Questions in the survey followed a similar though much simplified pattern to those used by Swim England in their research (Value of Swimming, https://www.swimming.org/swimengland/new-study-says-swimming-benefits-mental-health/), and we gave participants in advance a link to more information about this aspect of the project, https://www.imogensriverswims.co.uk/blog/issues/zcold-and-other-risks-of-swimming-more-info/, including the benefits reported and researched.
Selected feedback quotes:
I’ve had a marvellous experience today at the wild swimming course. A supportive and welcoming team made a memorable day for me whilst learning vital safety advice through direct experience. Thanks for making this available.
So enjoyed today at the training session …! Huge thank you to all concerned. Loads of encouragement, and delighted to meet and talk to other outdoor swimmers.
What have you learnt? (a selection) It’s not as scary as I thought. Jumping in is fabulous. That it is definitely the sport for me. To be less afraid of swimming in reeds and not to mind squidgy bottoms (as much)
I must say I felt fab yesterday evening, so relaxed and tranquil, and I slept like a log! So I certainly felt the benefits! It is comforting to know the lifeguards are there ‘just in case’ so thank you to them also, and to the volunteers. What a shame so many people are brought up to fear open water and rivers. I really think with initiatives like this, people, particularly youngsters, can be taught to respect but enjoy our rivers and lakes. Thank you for giving me this opportunity.
Thank you very much for the swimming session today. I really enjoyed and am feeling inspired to do more.
Loved it, thank you to all the volunteers. Very informative and fab to meet wild swimmers
Thank you [one of the volunteers] so much for all your help… you’ve no idea how many times I almost bottled coming! Thank you to everyone for making us feel so welcome. Having only had a few swimming lessons indoors, then not swimming since lockdown I was very much out of my comfort zone!
Fantastic day as a volunteer introducing people to outdoor swimming. I even jumped off the ledge! Made the most of a team of life guards. So many happy people.
A great day today for #lifeguards at @TheBrecksLP #openwater #swim event near #Thetford. All swimmers enjoyed their swim in the #river many for a first #wildswimming experience. Keep looking for more events in 2021 in #Breckland #Suffolk #Norfolk. @EbbsEbbs
The venue was used by kind permission of Thorpe Woodlands Adventure Centre (it is not generally accessible, as it is not a public place) www.thorpewoodlands.co.uk; https://www.facebook.com/thorpe.woodlands/; https://twitter.com/th0rpew00dlands.
The trainer and lifeguarding team, David Ebbs and his colleagues, who will be working with us throughout the project on other events, are on Twitter here: https://twitter.com/EbbsEbbs
BFER printed swim hats from www.swimprint.com were provided to all participants and volunteers, partly for visibility for the lifeguards and also as a souvenir and a way of promoting the BFER.
You can see photographs taken at the event here on Flickr, https://www.flickr.com/gp/188198775@N06/k37486. If you want to share any photos, the easiest way is to share this link, and if you use them in any way please credit BFER.
The event was the first in a series of swim intro events planned within the Healing Waters project, one of The Brecks Fen Edge and Rivers Landscape Partnership Scheme (BFER) projects, http://www.brecks.org/BFER/, supported by the National Lottery Heritage Fund.
More events are planned for 2021 and 2022. Sign up to get involved in the project – Contact me and say you would like updates – or to hear about future events in this or other projects sign up for BFER updates and newsletter here.