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Swim for Confidence

As part of ‘This Girl Can Nottingham’ we understood there was a demand from the South Asian & Muslim community to learn to swim in a fun, friendly and safe environment. Successful pilot swimming sessions provided 23 women an opportunity to participate.


The challenge 

The need for swimming came across very strongly from the community. We heard multiple times about women wanting to swim but facing many real and perceived barriers such as cost, fear of failure and protocol such as booking on, lockers etc. Religious norms were also a barrier, as there was a desire to ensure the sessions would be ladies only.

There were many initial barriers to getting the sessions off the ground. This included ensuring no males could view the pool, instructors would be available, and that there was integration with existing booking systems.

The solution 

Whatever action was taken, it was important that it could be sustainable (particularly since there is a strong latent demand to learn to swim among this audience). Costs were considered, as was integration with swimming in the Centres, hiring out a whole swimming pool for a bespoke session was not the aim. Working with trusted partners and communities, we discussed possible solutions including ones that would work existing Leisure Centre programming. It was decided that swimming sessions would occur at the leisure centre and would run alongside current ‘Swim for Ladies’ sessions, meaning our village style changing rooms were occupied by women and female workforce was already in place to accommodate need.

To ensure there was consistency with other offers, the charge was standard, costing £5.30 per session (£2.65 concession). Whilst many attendees were concessions, they also had support from other organisations in areas such as transport or swimming costumes. 

Booking processes for the session were in line with Active Nottingham procedures, ensuring users became familiar with Leisure Centres for other/future sessions. Ladies were encouraged to meet with the instructors before the first session. Not only could ladies become familiar with instructors and sessions, instructors were also able to identify abilities and need. This meant the ladies had support around procedures such as registration, using lockers etc which were previously seen as barriers. Thoughts were made to instructors provided that friendly, familiar face when sessions began, welcoming the ladies through the door and supporting any new women with their journeys.

Working in partnership has been key to ensure the programme’s success. The sessions were straight forward enough to manage operationally through existing leisure processes and resource, but we needed our partners and the This Girl Can funded Active Wellbeing Outreach Worker employed by Nottingham Muslim Women’s Network to broker that engagement and recruitment, to ensure there was trust and reach into the community. 

The response from the community was overwhelming, several sessions reached capacity. The session numbers were managed within the communities to have some consistency for the instructors. 

We approached this as a pilot since there were many layers and barriers to address, whilst also understanding if the approach could work in a particular centre and then be rolled out to others (Active Nottingham boasts 6 centres with swimming pools). 

Challenges were anticipated and some did occur. For instance, when registering the women; many had low levels of English which presented a challenge. Then other issues arose such as clothing, booking systems and cultural challenges. Going forward these challenges will be given continued consideration. Whilst operational issues can have negative consequences to the success of the sessions and engagement, these were quickly address by our swim instructors, who were integral to the success. 

Without patient, understanding and caring instructors, the women would not have enjoyed the sessions, nor would they have returned week after week. 

Many great and inspiring stories were shared in the sessions. One that captures the whole experience is a story of two ladies who have recently sought refuge from Syria. When they attended their first session, they were so happy to see water that they jumped in at the shallow end and were actually quite disruptive during the session. Whilst this presented a health and safety concern, which was promptly addressed, it also showed the enthusiasm and the positive effect female only access to the pool has had on these women’s lives.

The impact

Sessions ended in September 2023, and only occurred at one leisure centre over 7-week period. In total, 23 women had booked a total of 57 times over 6 sessions, an average of 2.5 sessions per person. The average age of the women attended was 38 years old Ethnicity of women attended ranged from 39% were Arab17% were Pakistani, and other ‘Asian African’ made up the remainder. 0% of women were of white ethnicity. All women became Active Nottingham Members with 3 women having memberships. One woman has taken up a Swim School membership since the sessions have begun. Since the first swim session 112 other activities have been booked by 6 of the women who initially engaged through swim pilot.

How is the new approach being sustained? 

We will always be able to align swim for confidence sessions with pre-existing swim for ladies’ sessions across all our sites (6), the challenge continues to be ensuring a female specific workforce can facilitate these. 

Unfortunately, since the swim sessions ended, we are yet to create further sessions across multiple sites. The main reason being a lack of female staff/instructors to facilitate sessions, as well as challenges around programming, have delayed our progress. We continue consider and reconfigure how we integrate session into existing programming and through our This Girl Can funding, have recently invested in the training of 4 new female swimming instructors to support forthcoming sessions. When qualified and the ‘pool’ of female instructors increases, we’re thankful to have a successful blueprint to grow engagement into swimming for South Asian and Muslim women.

Key Takeaways: 

  • Constant dialogue is needed between the participants, enablers, facility, and instructors. 
  • Ensure you are working with the community to understand their needs. 

Don’t assume ‘build it and they will come’ approach, building trust is an important aspect.

When looking at a group that needs this level of support, a few recommendations are made: 

  • Ensure the instructors understand the needs of the community and are willing to support the whole journey and be adaptable.
  • Ensuring the space is culturally appropriate is vital and needs constant support.
  • Working with the centres and staff is vital to tackling some of the key logistical issues.

Contact: [email protected]