On a clear, mild early December evening we gathered at our favourite London Fields Lido for a swim with the amazing Ella (@ellachloeswims on Instagram) and Rosie who set up the wonderful swimwear brand Deakin and Blue for an Outdoor People gathering of regular outdoor swimmers and women who hadn’t swum for years….
Joining us were women from as far afield as Essex and Putney, some regular swimmers, a few regular cold water swimmers, and a few who hadn’t swum in a couple of years, looking for inspiration to get back in the water and try out something different.
London Fields Lido is an amazingly lovely pool, brought back from dereliction a few years ago by the folks from Better Leisure, a non-profit that runs many of the Capital’s public sports and leisure facilities. It’s a lovely spot, a warm(ish!) open air pool, heated to about 23–25 degrees C, and open to the sky. In summer it is often full of sun bathers and I once saw a synchronised swimming group there. In winter it is mostly more serious swimmers, but there is always a wide lane for those of us that like to swim slowly or with our friends. Children over 12, who are good swimmers, can take themselves there (my niece is super fond of it) and though jumping and diving is generally frowned upon, it is a very friendly place. The outdoor showers by the pool are roasting hot and everyone smiles!
Ella is swimming every day in December — #dipadaydecember — raising money for Mind as she goes. This is her only heated swim!! Do follow her, super inspirational and brave…. Ella makes getting in the Thames at Henley in December look like she’s stepping into a tub!
After our swim we went back to the shop where a roaring fire, mulled wine and mince pies from Victoria Yum awaited us…. and then a great debate started, sparked by Ella and Rosie’s stories of what drove their respective enterprises.
Whats happening with swimming women and why?
Some key stats….
Swimming participation in England has fallen by nearly 24% 2007–16*
Three times as many women quit swimming in the last 12 months as men**
Too many children can’t swim properly — one in three get to year seven without being able to swim the length of a small pool — about 25 metres. ***
Swimming is a key life skill. We live on an island with lots and lots of rivers. children and adults need to be able to swim to feel safe — and be safe — around water. Everyone likes going to the beach!
And it makes us happy. Really happy. It lifts your mood, flips your thinking and generally makes you slow down.**** Tonic of the Sea is a magical documentary exploring mental health and sea swimming, thoroughly recommend!
There are 5,060 swimming pools in the UK, a 12% increase in the number of swimming pools compared to 2006. There are also many, many wild swimming holes and, of course, the sea.
So what stops us jumping into swimming pools and going for a swim?
Swimming Women was a night of banter and chat, not a representative sample, but still some truths were certainly spoken.
- Many enjoy swimming on holiday but at their pool feel gathering with friends is frowned upon
- With children it’s often hard to find times kids can go for lessons at the same time as mum can swim, or pools that welcome adults AND pre-teens
- Many feel uncomfortable walking from the changing room to a pool in a costume
- Costumes often simply don’t last and go a bit see-through — especially if you do swim regularly
- And finding a costume that fits well, looks nice and is practical is not easy!
- Often it feels like ‘people like me don’t go swimming — I’m too old/fat/black/can’t swim well enough….
- Or life feels just too busy….
And yet…. everyone had their stories about their best day’s swim, and what brings them back.
- Fond memories of school swimming lessons from some, learning a skill and getting good at it.
- Seeking out swims with friends and goals to achieve like swimming 2 miles in Windermere or in the sea!
- London’s open lidos, heated and not, made frequent appearances
- Swimming year round in the Royal Docks sounds amazing!! (more info: here) and they do rent out wet suits.
- Getting good goggles!
- Swimming in the Barrier Reef, in Jamaica and in Scotland all made appearances — experiences that couldn’t be happen without learning this fundamental skill.
So whats stopping you?
Inspired by this I’m trying to take my own swimming up a notch over December. I’m not (yet) up to open water swimming, but will be exploring the pools available with my Better membership card… I’m documenting the experiences over on Instagram — https://www.instagram.com/kitprisk/
Huge thanks to London Fields lido for our great swim, to Victoria Yum for fantastic mince pies, to the Outdoor People team for mulled Wine, spiced hot apple and a great fire to sit around!
Support Ella’s campaign: https://www.justgiving.com/fundraising/dip-a-day-december
Check out the Deakin and Blue swimming costumes here: https://outdoorpeople.org.uk/collections/deakin-and-blue-ethical-sustainable-swimwear
And do come in to try one on. As one small boy said to our friend Hayley — “mummy you look lovely!”. We guarantee they will make you want to swim more!