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Swims For Mental Health And Wellbeing

By Nikki Gatland , 01 October, 2023

Of paramount importance in any sustainability programme is a focus on ESG...

E - Environmental

S - Social

G - Governance

sustainable roadmap

The ‘S’ In ESG | Initiative 5

The next of our 20 Initiatives focuses on a lasting social pledge to build communities instead of customers. Now, we want to champion the benefits of open water swimming for mental health and communities.

We have just finished our first six-week Introduction To Open Water For Mental Health And Wellbeing programme. The course was fully funded by SwimTrek, but we did ask for a voluntary donation towards our chosen charity of Sea Trees, which supports communities and scientists who protect and regenerate blue carbon coastal ecosystems.

Who Took Part In The Course?

The six-week course was developed to offer individuals within the emergency services an opportunity to engage in one of the fastest growing (and possibly most rewarding) activities in the UK, with a view to improve their short-term mental health, as well as building a community of local open water users for longer term health benefits.

sustainable roadmap

Why The Emergency Services?

The program was offered to Sussex and Surrey Police, Sussex Community Foundation trust, Sussex NHS and West Sussex Fire and Rescue. We had over 20 individuals expressing an interest in just a few days, with a pilot programme capacity of only 15.

As the daughter of two Police Officers and a previous colleague to others, I have experienced first-hand the impact an emergency service role can have, not only on the individual, but also their family and friends. The emergency services are often incredibly stretched and under resourced, with the daily demands of the role far exceeding the support that providers are given. Regular exposure to traumatic and stressful events takes its toll on mental and physical health. Evidence supporting the health benefits of open water use is ever-growing and we wanted to harness it and share it.

Why Open Water Swimming?

Essentially, group open water swimming consists of three components that are key to improving or maintaining a healthy mind.

  1. Expose to the outside, the elements (sun, wind rain) and to cooler water.

  2. The challenge of learning a new skill or pushing a person’s ‘comfort zone’, breaking boundaries and exploring new possibilities.

  3. Being part of a group of others experiencing the same thing, asking for help or supporting others to achieve goals.

A combination of these three factors provides the best opportunity for long term engagement and can assist in sustaining or improving the mental health of an individual. An improvement in mental health and development of coping strategies can support an emergency worker to continue in a profession they are good at, very much needed in and ultimately enjoy.

sustainable roadmap

The Programme

We started every session with a ‘primal scream’ - a chance to let it all out by screaming into the water, with no questions or judgement. We then started working on body position, breathing and confidence in the water during our pool sessions. We soon progressed into the open water where we took a moment to appreciate our environment, learn about the local currents and tides and how to read the waves.

The Impact

Over the six weeks, we saw a significant change in peoples' attitudes to the water, their confidence and even their trust in their abilities. As a group, we shared tears, screams, laughter and smiles. While it was just a short, 1 hour session, once a week for 6 weeks, the group bonded over their achievements, made huge progress and have discussed a regular Wednesday evening swim session. We finished the 6 weeks with a 1km swim from Brighton Pier to Sea Lanes - a swim they never thought they would be able to achieve!

“Really enjoyed the course. Not something I thought I would ever partake in but thoroughly enjoyed it... Lucia and Nikki are both excellent coaches, great energy and really engaging."

Supporting everyone’s mental health is critical within society, in all sectors and demographics and we hope we can grow this programme to continue to offer support to all.

“Joining this course has allowed me to meet new people, be in new environments, improve my activity levels as I am swimming nearly everyday outside of the course, give me a new hobby and focus - which has all improved my mental health!"

As part of our commitment to working with the local communities that we visit, we thought we would start with our own local community here at our HQ in Brighton. The 'S'ocial in 'ESG' refers to how a company treats different groups of people. In this pilot programme, we wanted to use our knowledge and skills to support our local emergency services.

“The entire course was so much fun and I always felt better afterwards, even if I was having a bad day. The instructors are very kind and supportive, and I can already foresee me becoming one of the crazy people who going in the sea on Christmas day!”

To learn more about the ways in which SwimTrek is growing and evolving as a business, please explore our 20 Initiatives...


20 Initiatives: Responsible Travel

February 13th 2003 - Exactly 20 years ago to this day SwimTrek was founded! The past 20 years have been an adventure like no other. We've met masses of wildlife along the way, launched trips to places no one had ever really swum before us, and, finally, here we are 20 years later in a moment...

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