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University programme helps people take the plunge, offering free swim sessions with a difference

University of Gloucestershire is breaking down barriers to make swimming more accessible as part of its new physical activity and wellbeing programme, ‘Move Your Way’, operating across Cheltenham and Gloucester.

The Swim 4 All scheme is providing University students and staff with free access to social swimming sessions and swimming lessons – led by qualified student coaches from the University’s UniSport team – in a safe and welcoming environment at GL1 Leisure Centre in Gloucester.

The student-led initiative is designed to help all the University’s 12,000 students and 1,500 staff enjoy the benefits of swimming, with tailored support in place to overcome obstacles to participation, such as a lack of confidence around water, issues around being unable to swim, or concerns about swimwear.

One student who benefited from the Swim 4 All scheme, Fisayo, said: “I am absolutely delighted I signed up for the programme. I particularly like how supportive the teachers are at ensuring no one feels out of place.

“I can now swim on my back, thanks to them, and I’m also making new friends along the way.”

Another student said: “Joining Swim 4 All was among the best decisions I’ve made since enrolling at the university. The group made it easy for me to adapt to my new environment and make connections with new people. I value the group’s inclusion, love, and degree of diversity.

“The swimming instructors have been encouraging, pleasant and helpful. My learning of the fundamental and advanced swimming techniques has improved.”

Student Ethan Fincham, one of the programme leads, said: “I’m a part of Swim 4 All because the idea of learning a life skill in an all-inclusive, safe environment, where you can be yourself without fear of judgment is something I never saw whilst learning to swim.

“For me, being able to offer that support to others through Swim 4 All, is enriching.”

The swimming scheme has been set up as part of the University’s Move Your Way programme that delivers free recreational activities for staff and students designed to enhance physical and mental health, including Zumba, badminton, women’s-only gym sessions and dog walking.

Swimming is proven to reduce the risk of serious illnesses, such as heart disease and type 2 diabetes, while also helping participants to lose weight, improve strength and mobility, and reduce stress levels.

Lou Fensome, Senior Sport Physical Activity Co-ordinator from the University’s UniSport department, said: “We wanted everyone within our University community to have free access to swimming facilities because, as well as being an enjoyable leisure activity, there are lots of great health benefits.

Swim 4 All student leads George Kelman-Johns (left) and Ethan Fincham

“It’s free, you don’t need any specialist swimwear – shorts and a T-shirt are fine if that’s how you feel more comfortable. You can just enjoy being in the pool or have swimming coaching – it’s entirely your choice. That’s helping us encourage people who have never felt confident to take the step to learn to swim before, with international and UK students joining in the fun.

“The students who run our programme have been fantastic and it really helps break down barriers and reduce anxiety.

“There are lots of people out there who have never learned to swim, lack confidence or might have anxieties about either being in or near the water or even the kit or environment they need to learn or improve.

“Our qualified student team is able to help to make sure everyone who wants to be involved feels comfortable doing so.

“Whether that’s about ensuring staff and students feel comfortable in what they’re wearing, or overcoming their fears around water, we’ve put steps in place to make sure everyone can relax and have fun in a safe and friendly environment.

“One half of the pool we use at GL1 is for social swimming, for anyone who would like to get out the house, take a break from studies, or spend time with friends in a different but safe environment.

“We provide swimming lessons for all abilities in the other half of the pool where students and staff work towards their own bespoke learning plan that we’ll create with them.

“Our goal is to have more people, more active, more often, by being welcoming to all.”