For those lucky enough to be taught to swim, there’ll be a wide range of emotive memories linked to swimming lessons. For some, swimming lessons will have been the highlight of the week; plunging in at the deep end, recovering bricks from the depths and racing your friends in a torrent of spray. For others, the image of arm bands, the whiff of chlorine and the shrill blast of a whistle will induce sweaty palms, widened eyes and a quickened pulse.
Whatever your memories of swimming lessons are, it’s a crucial life skill which significantly reduces your likelihood of drowning. The Royal Lifesaving Society UK highlights that drowning is the third highest cause of death in the UK’s children and that one person dies every 20 hours due to drowning.
Beyond helping to prevent drowning, swimming gives people a way to be physically active, which throughout life provides a wide range of health and wellbeing benefits including increased physical fitness, reducing the likelihood of heart disease, stroke and type-2 diabetes.
Swimming can also have a tremendously positive effect on an individual’s mental well-being, with additional wider social benefits including better educational attainment and improved confidence.
Yet despite these great benefits, 40 per cent of Scotland’s children leave primary school unable to swim. This number increases significantly in areas of deprivation, which is poignant when more than one child in every five living in Edinburgh is affected by poverty.
This social injustice means that these children are often excluded from learning to swim, placing them at a higher risk of drowning and losing out on the chance to develop their physical abilities and communication skills.
The decline in children’s swimming ability is linked to an eight per cent UK decline in the number of people swimming recreationally (Sports England), especially families. As well as the negative impact on a child’s ability to swim and their water confidence, children who never get the opportunity to learn to swim are less likely to be physically active throughout their life, increasing their likelihood of major illnesses by up to 50 per cent and early death by up to 30 per cent.
For those effected by poverty, often the first expense to go is leisure activities like swimming, with the need to pay for items essential to our daily lives like electricity, clothes and food more important. Alongside the cost, often parents who come from disadvantaged homes are unable to swim themselves and therefore lack the confidence to take their child swimming.
To give every child the opportunity to learn to swim, Edinburgh Leisure runs a project called ‘Jump In’ which provides 8-10 weeks of free pre-school swimming lessons for nursery pupils living in areas of multiple deprivation. This is followed by up to 20 weeks of swimming lessons at a discounted rate to enable continued involvement in swimming, with the first block of swimming lessons discounted by 60 per cent and the second by 30 per cent. As a charity, Edinburgh Leisure relies on funding from trusts, companies and individuals to keep this project going. Since it began, ‘Jump In’ has taught 1,213 nursery school pupils affected by poverty to swim, embedding crucial life skills that keeps children safe around water through improving their water confidence and swimming ability. This in turn enabled them to swim with their family.
As a swimming teacher and a funding officer, I often meet the people who take part in our project and see the difference it makes to their lives. I believe therefore that it is imperative that we continue to raise funds to ensure that these services continue.
Therefore, along with some work colleagues, I’ve signed up to take part in Edinburgh Leisure’s inaugural ‘10x10 Swim Challenge’ to raise sponsorship so more children can learn to swim. The ‘10x10 Swim Challenge’ consists of a team of ten staff from Edinburgh Leisure, swimming 1km each in all ten of Edinburgh Leisure pools in one day – Friday 6 May.
If you have had a great experience of swimming or believe that all children should get the opportunity to learn to swim and would like to sponsor the team, donations can be made by texting EDLS65 £3 to 70070.
Andrew Stephenson is funding officer at Edinburgh Leisure