Healing Waters project outline

Logo with stylised river and pinesINTRODUCTION ((Download page as Word .doc, 4 pages)

Healing Waters will engage people in healthy outdoor activities, including learning to enjoy being in, on or by the water safely and with care for the environment; and in mapping, recognising, establishing and considering publicising suitable places for swimming or for other recreational uses of the rivers. It will inform and be informed by other projects including Tales from the River (which will involve young people and adults in gathering and celebrating stories and folklore about recreational use of the water in the Breckland rivers and other waters in the past and present).

These two projects are part of a wider set of projects, Brecks Fen Edge and Rivers Landscape Project, which has now succeeded in the bid for funding from the National Lottery Heritage Fund. The project area, Breckland, is in Suffolk and Norfolk. The project will run 2020-2025.

Reasons for the project

Outdoor swimming has been outlawed and discouraged for decades, resulting in generations losing knowledge and confidence to participate. Meanwhile, young people have carried on the tradition of flocking to local swimming spots in the rivers in the summer.

Some landowners, land managers and other river users have concerns about swimming and other activities, so the project will involve and consult these groups throughout, and it is hoped that the improved understanding of safe and environmentally friendly behaviours around water will help tackle the issues.

Many parents and authorities have worries about the safety of young people swimming and playing in the water. The project will provide young people with training in life saving and water safety, and will involve them in passing on safety advice to others, both formally by involving them in training, and informally as they talk to their peers. This is likely to be the most effective way to get messages across to other young people. The young people involved in the related project, Tales from the River, will produce environment and safety messages in a fun and relevant way, as well as investigating the heritage of these activities.

Outdoor swimming is a fun outdoors activity with benefits to mental and physical health, some of which are only now beginning to be understood, publicised and studied, for example by TV Dr Chris van Tulleken, as are the benefits of outdoor activity or green exercise generally by academics at Essex University.

More swimming places are needed in Breckland for the growing local population and the growing popularity of outdoor swimming and other watery recreational activities. Large numbers enjoy the few available places at the height of summer, which can place stress upon those locations, however recreation in and by local inland waters is more affordable and sustainable than travelling on roads to the coast, busy in summer.

Plan, Prepare and Consult

We will consult and involve landowners and land managers, conservation organisations, businesses and other river users from the start, to select and agree the places to be used for watery events and training and the areas to be surveyed, and where appropriate involve them in the risk assessment, and discuss any concerns. We will target publicity to parents and groups organising young people.

We will risk assess potentially appropriate places, including looking at related practicalities such as parking, and will carry out water quality testing (involving volunteers/students to collect samples). The locations will be suitable for age of group and swimming ability, and where possible will have a sloping entry and shallow and deeper water. They will be natural waterways – such as rivers and lakes – with risks that can be assessed and discussed as part of the activity. We will risk assess and conduct training on risk assessment for those surveying the rivers and lake.

  1. WATERY EVENTS AND TRAINING

Purpose and aims
To introduce people of all ages to enjoying the water safely and with care for the environment, to allay fears and misunderstandings, and to equip them to do their own risk assessments and mitigate risks.
To train young people in life saving and lifeguarding.
To give an opportunity to participate in an open water swim event, and to receive some introductory coaching in the sport.

Swim have a go and safety / risk assessment training events
• discuss understanding of swim safety and risk assessment
• learn how to keep safe and have fun in, on, and by the water
• learn how to look after and appreciate the environment
• learn what to consider after swimming (cold, any adverse symptoms)
• understand the benefits to mental and physical health of outdoor swimming
• on riverbank – learn how to look for risks and how to mitigate them
• in the river – swim have a go
• afterwards – get dry, dressed and warm.

There will be sessions for adults, youth groups, and family/parents and children. They will take place at various river and lake spots, at a riverside pub and at a riverside campsite.

Open water swimming event and coaching
We will hold a small-scale open water swimming event and provide some introductory coaching sessions in advance. This will give local people the opportunity to take part in this increasingly popular sport.

Open water safety, life saving and lifeguarding
We will provide some life-saving training to young people. We will train a small group of over 16s in open water lifeguarding, providing them with a qualification and enabling them to take a role in later training sessions.

Other events
We will take part in Thetford River Day. And the related project Tales from the River, looking at the heritage and current issues related to outdoor swimming and river recreation, will involve some storytelling at events, a film launch and an exhibition.

  1. MAP AND SURVEY

Purpose and aims
To map and assess the rivers and a lake in the Breckland area for watery recreation
To recognise and establish swimming places suitable for different types of swimming and other watery activities, and to consider publicising them appropriately
To provide signage with historic and practical information and safety advice
To provide educational and information materials in conjunction with youth groups participating in the Tales from the River project

Train a group of volunteers in risk assessment and river safety awareness

Carry out an assessment/survey of rivers (and a lake)
• on foot, at points publicly accessible from road/public footpath/permissive path/common/open access area
• on foot, at points on private land with landowner permission
• by water, either by swimming or kayaking/canoeing (where possible, safe, and clearly permitted)
• including assessing places that might be currently considered not suitable (e.g. near locks, private land that can be accessed without trespassing/with permission, including conservation areas), for discussion
in order to:
• find suitable beaches or places for swimming, entering and exiting the water
• find suitable swim walks/swim runs
• consider suitability of places for different categories of swimmers and other watery activities
• find suitable places for other water related recreation
• investigate places suggested by other projects, particularly the research and oral history by adults and youth group in Tales from the River

Map the locations using QGIS, putting together
• findings from assessment/survey
• information from Tales from the River or other projects
• old maps
• current OS maps
• other relevant information, e.g. conservation data

Consider and Discuss
Consider issues raised and discuss, e.g. locks/weirs with Environment Agency, sensitive wildlife areas with relevant organisations, access and other issues with landowners
Consider suitability of places for types of swimmer/ other recreational water user
Consider whether some places are suitable to recognise and publicise on national or local wild swim/swim walk maps
Consider places to establish or improve as swimming places, including signage, infrastructure or facilities

Action
Design and produce signage, including historic and practical information and advice
Put in place infrastructure or facilities if appropriate, or signpost to nearby facilities
Produce educational materials, leaflets, and display materials, jointly with and informed by the Tales from the River project.

TIMETABLE (to be finalised)

The project will run 2020-2025 (with most activities in the first 3 years)

Year 1 (2020)
Landowners meeting (March 2020, possibly jointly with landowners organisation VSG)
water testing (fortnight before each event)
Rookie lifeguard training
risk assessment training for surveying
intro to outdoor swimming training, 1/2 day x 2 (summer/late summer?)

Year 2 (2021)
water testing (fortnight before each event)
Rookie lifeguard training (Apr-Oct)
Open Water Lifeguard training (late summer)
river surveying (Apr-Oct)
intro to outdoor swimming training, 1 day x 2 (early summer)
intro to outdoor swimming training, pub 1/2 day (summer peak)
Thetford River Day (July)

Year 3 (2022)
water testing (fortnight before each event)
intro to outdoor swimming training, 1/2 day x 2 (early and late summer)
intro to outdoor swimming training, campsite 1 day (summer peak)
open water coaching session
swim event
mapping
access and related discussions
signage plan and order

Year 4 (2023)
finalise signage and other works
leaflets etc

Year 5 (2024)
evaluation etc

HOW YOU CAN GET INVOLVED

• Come and try outdoor swimming and learn about having fun in the water safely
• consider helping as a volunteer at events and training
• spread the word about the activities
• bring a group of young people to try outdoor swimming and learning about safety
• Help map and survey the river for swimming and recreation places (training provided)
• If you are interested in hearing about more as the project develops, please give us your contact information (your information will not be passed on to anyone else or used for anything else).
• Contact me with any questions, suggestions, or to get involved imogen36 [at] googlemail.com

MORE INFORMATION

swims and swim places