Tuesday, 21 May 2013

Slippery when wet

Yesterday, the national agency, Scottish Swimming launched  a new six week campaign, aimed at raising awareness of the health benefits of swimming.

‘You Can Swim’ is a motivational campaign for adults to raise awareness of the benefits of swimming, and to support pools offering opportunities to adults to learn to swim or develop their swimming ability.

Swimming is the sport for all – the sport for life. Everyone can learn to swim regardless of age, ability, gender, social class or background provided they have the right opportunities to do so, however, it is recognised that there needs to be more incentive and inspiration for adults to participate in any form of aquatic activity. 

This comes hot on the heels of last weeks launch of 'Start to Swim', a two year £60k programme (£50k from company Scottish Salmon, £10k from Sport Scotland) launched at everybody's favourite kiddies pool - the Royal Commonwealth Pool by the Children and Young People Minister Aileen Campbell. Ms Campbell at the launch, said - “Swimming is a wonderful experience for parents and children to share. It is fun and helps keep us active and can give children basic water skills and build confidence" 

Start to Swim is part of Scottish Swimming’s participation programme ‘Just Add Water’ which "aims to get people of all ages swimming for health, fitness and fun".  

Phew! So three campaigns and it's clear that we got a problem (namely not enough people are swimming), and for clarity, it's great that the national agency is doing what it can through a range of campaigns to raise awareness of the benefits of swimming. The Commonwealth Games is focusing a few minds on the future and 'legacy'.  A third of children in Scotland leave primary school unable to swim.  And from our reading of figures it would appear that around only 1 in 8 kids in Edinburgh are regularly swimming... So whats the solution?

Now Ms Campbell may remember me - the week the Councillors were set to take the vote in the last administration, on whether to close Waterworld, I heard that she was in town, launching an early years programme at the Fort. I cycled down, arrived unannounced and waited for 40 minutes in the rain whilst the Minister had her photo taken inside. When the minster came out, I asked for two minutes and explained what was about to happen in Leith - the self same place chosen to launch a scheme to support parents at risk of isolation, deprivation and stress - that the sole pool in the area that specifically catered for toddlers and the disabled was going to be shut, with all the attendant impacts. To be fair she listened, look concerned and said she would do what she could.

As we know, the Councillors voted to close Waterworld that week.

It is our contention, and always has been that first and foremost we need to have adequate and affordable facilities that cater for ALL sections of our community.  This way we can try to stem what we think is an alarming decline in swimming, for the future. That that is the first priority... and then we can provide the additional resources to encourage those who are not making the most of current facilities...

In another recent encounter with a influential politician, I met Dr Bridget McConnell, Head of Glasgow Life, at a conference on Article 31 - the UN Convention of the Rights of the Child. Article 31, often dubbed the forgotten article,  ensures that “States Parties recognize the right of the child to rest and leisure, to engage in play and recreational activities…" . Dr McConnell spoke passionately about the right of children to play, and what Glasgow City Council were doing to ensure that in action, not just in words. In conversation after she alerted me to, and provided, a fantastic academic study, which she credited as changing the way that her organization thought about pools. As a direct result of reading the study, Glasgow Life adopted a policy of offering free swimming to all under 18's across the city of Glasgow.

In the study (uploaded below) it is clear that for officials "the swimming pool was reported as important amenity which was linked to health and wellbeing.  However, few residents reported regular use of the pool for physical activity. Use of the pool facility for social contact was directly linked to reports of relief of stress and isolation, and improved mental health." For the actual users of the pool, the benefits went way beyond physical activity - instead they valued the role the amenity provides as a community hub, building and strengthening family & community links and friendships which, in the long run, made their lives easier to live....

That's whats on the table here, not just whether wee johnnie can swim a width.

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