Open Minds Active (OMA) is a social enterprise based in Bristol. We connected with them to explore their successes, challenges, and advice to other organisations looking to focus on mental health.
OMA founder, Maggy Blagrove, is an experienced open-water swimmer who used exercise to help her, and her friends, manage feelings of grief, stress and depression during the pandemic.
She noticed a significant positive impact on her, and her friends’ mental health, and decided to try and bring these benefits to others in her community.
In doing so, Maggy became more aware of a distinct lack of diversity amongst those swimming in the lake. OMA was therefore founded with two key aims:
- To offer inclusive and accessible swimming lessons.
- To provide socially prescribed, six-week, open-water swimming courses to improve mental health.
Pic credit: Orca
What do they offer?
OMA offer a range of activities and courses to improve people’s mental health.
These focus on social prescribing from local mental health services, diversifying their open-water swimming offer to underrepresented or low-income groups, and hosting team days for larger corporations and organisations.
Prescribed nature therapy
Through partnerships with over 20 health clinics, GPs and mental health services, OMA offer prescribed nature therapy.
Backed by scientific research, their courses are tailor-made to improve
OMA support those referred to them through free six-week courses.
All of their team are mental health first aid trained and provide a safe and positive environment.
OMA’s aim to engage the local community was initially met with concern.
People’s swimming ability was limiting participation, particularly among Black and Asian communities in Bristol.
After meeting Wafa, a former competitive swimmer in her home country Sudan and passionate advocate for teaching women to swim, they both set up women-only swimming lessons to offer women from diverse backgrounds a safe and private environment to learn to swim.
These started with 12 participants in 2020 but have grown to over 100 women.
OMA have since recruited several coaches.They act as role models and are representative of the communities they serve.
I was nervous at first, but because there are specific sessions for women of colour, I felt like it was a supportive environment.
Lildonia, OMA participant
To continue to diversify their offer, OMA provide free sessions for local refugees and asylum seekers, and have begun branching out to the LGBTQ+ community to ensure their support is inclusive.
Mental health support is a priority for OMA, but reaching underrepresented communities is becoming an increasing focus.
OMA offer ‘team days’ where organisations, companies, or private groups can book workshops and sessions such as ‘Cold Water Swimming’ or ‘Wellbeing Reset’ to boost mental health.
The income generated is reinvested to help subsidise the free sessions for refugees, asylum seekers, referred participants, and others that may require additional financial support.
In the last seven months, OMA has engaged with 45 prescribed participants over three cold-water therapy programmes.
The sessions focus on acclimatisation, learning about their health benefits, health and safety, and mindfulness.
After the free prescribed course, participants can attend £5 drop-in sessions with support groups which are run by peer mentors.
Recent survey data has revealed that 96% of participants reduced their levels of anxiety over just six weeks.