Boosting Mental Wellbeing Through Open Water Swimming

5th July 2018

A pilot project that aims to support people with mental health issues by improving their swimming skills – with the ultimate goal of taking them wild swimming with seals off the Northumberland coast – has been hailed a fantastic success.

The new Pool to Open Water Swim Programme is an Active Northumberland initiative delivered in partnership with Tyneside & Northumberland MIND.

Those participating spent four weeks at the pool at Willowburn Sports Centre in Alnwick being taught the skills and techniques needed to swim in the open water. They then progressed into the open water for three weeks with the programme culminating on the eighth and final week with an amazing swim with seals off the Farne Islands.

The pioneering programme was led by Community Sports Officer Jane Hardy and aimed at people who are living with stress, anxiety or mental health issues.

Jane Hardy, Community Sport Officer said:

“ I firmly believe that getting into the great outdoors, taking exercise, socialising and spending some time with nature can really help to boost the mood and self esteem of people who are living with mental health issues. All the latest medical research is backing this approach too.   At any point in our lives things can crop up that mean we find ourselves struggling with our mental health.  Instead of feeling isolated and alone with depression, our group took the brave decision to join the programme and they’ve been on an amazing personal journey they never thought possible.

“ They’ve come so far in just eight  weeks. On week one they were nervous to go down the ladder into the pool and  put their faces in the water. By week eight they were jumping off a boat into the North Sea four miles off the coast of Britain and swimming with Atlantic grey seals in their natural environment.  They were all radiant as they exited the swim and rightly so. They’ve knocked down barriers, raised their confidence and self esteem and achieved something really special.”

The Open Water Swim project received funding from Active Northumberland, Alnwick Town Council and Berwick Community Trust, enabling people from North Northumberland to participate in this once in a lifetime experience.  It  was also supported by the NHS Northumbria Healthcare Health Trainers, who took part in the programme and provided participants with information and advice on ways to improve their health and wellbeing.

Stephanie Golder, Northumberland Development Worker from MIND said:

“This was an amazing opportunity for people involved with our organisation to try something out of the ordinary.  In a safe, supportive environment where everyone could relate to each other, people gently challenged themselves to achieve their own, individual goals.  The feedback from this project has been phenomenal with people seeing improvements in their physical health as well as their mental health and wellbeing.  

“Many people purchased wetsuits so they could continue sea swimming with other members of the group.  It’s wonderful to think that they are going to continue even after the project has ended.  I have seen vast improvements in the confidence and self-esteem of participants, and feel proud to have been one of those involved.  Hopefully this is something which we will be able to do again in the near future.”

Northumberland County Councillor Cath Homer, Cabinet Member with responsibility for leisure said:

“Active Northumberland is undertaking some really pioneering work to improve the physical and mental health and wellbeing of local residents and this open water programme is another great example of this work.”

Further information

For further information on the open water swimming project contact Jane Hardy at jhardy@activenorthumberland.org.uk.

Photo @copyright Lorraine Kerr

Open Water Swimming
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