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Prioritising inclusivity

Soul Swimmers was founded by Debbie Croydon and Audrey Livingston in 2020 after years of deliberation about how to offer additional sporting provision to Black women.

Alongside challenging pool closures and other pandemic implications, Debbie overcame a lack of confidence around the practicalities of starting her own club and challenging any associated stigma with engaging ethnically diverse communities in aquatic activity to get Soul Swimmers up and running.

We caught up with Soul Swimmers to learn more about the club’s progression and how inclusion can be prioritised in the same way across other organisations.

The purpose

As an avid triathlete and open-water swimmer, Debbie identified a lack of representation of ethnically diverse swimmers at triathlon events over the years.

More recently, and during the pandemic, the heightened interest in the Black Lives Matters movement acted as a catalyst for the creation of Soul Swimmers.

Upon the reopening of swimming pools after the pandemic, the group began to provide opportunities for Black women to swim, who otherwise may not have engaged.

Part of this offer revolved around creating safe and sheltered spaces for sessions, such as exclusive hire of the pool during these times – enabling women to feel comfortable to participate – and provided enough space for beginners to learn how to swim.

The short-term aim for Soul Swimmers was to provide that space and generate positivity around engagement with swimming for women from ethnically diverse backgrounds.

Longer term aims are two-fold: coaches, Debbie and Audrey, want to see more diversity participating competitively at triathlons or at open water events, and as a result, creating more black role models to encourage black children to engage with the sport.

The organisation

Once a week the small group meet, with two sessions (‘beginners’ and ‘improvers’) held at a local pool. The sessions cost £10 and run indoors with 10 participants in each group until the weather is warmer, at which point they'll take to open water.

The sessions currently have 19–66-year-olds involved, some from the same families after recommendation, and there is a waiting list to join the club.

Whilst the club is at capacity, Debbie and Audrey are the only volunteers involved in its running.

As with many swimming clubs, the demand for pool space and increasing facility-hiring costs are challenging for Soul Swimmers.

Despite this, some support has been received from kit suppliers, and security of facilities will continue to be sought to ensure the clubs ongoing success.

Soul Swimmers appreciate the small-scale operation they have, with a personal approach to coaching and comfort of the women involved.

There is an ambition to strengthen the club’s links with Swim England, British Triathlon, the Black Swimming Association (through Debbie’s teaching capacity) and some leisure providers to ensure the clubs future and growth.

The sustainability of the group is paramount to its future success and, as such, there is currently conversations internally around incorporation and the potential for becoming a ‘Community Amateur Sports Club’ or obtaining charity status.

The future of Soul Swimmers will continue to introduce bike and running sessions (of which a few have already taken place), additional groups scheduled as pool space becomes available, and getting the right legal structures in place.

But for now, Soul Swimmers are focused on the people and development of such an important life skill.

Not only can swimming positively impact mental and physical health, but it can also be a steppingstone to other aquatic activity, plus it can foster community connections, encourage more families and young people to get involved, and most importantly, save lives.

What can you do?

When asked what advice Soul Swimmers would give to other clubs or groups, it was simple.

Encourage more Black teachers, swimmers, and role models to help others see people like them in these spaces.
If you see a part of your community being underserved, focus on them.
Start small and be passionate about your plan.

Find out more

Soul Swimmers