Disabled swimmers win the pools

A disabled swimming group has arrived in EC1, courtesy of Natasha Fleming from WeSwim

By EC1 Echo

Three people swim in a swimming pool
Photo: EC1 Echo

With its sense of leaving gravity, swimming is the perfect exercise for anyone with an impairment. Which is why the charity WeSwim is building up a reputation across London for its informal disabled swims – and it now operates in two sites in the EC1 area. Already in Ironmonger Row baths [see above] for a year and a half, WeSwim has just started at Golden Lane gym near the Barbican – and it is actively seeking new swimmers at both venues.

Natasha Fleming of WeSwim is keen to spread the word. “I used to volunteer at a similar organisation in Victoria, but I felt that there was a need for more across London,” she says. “It’s because 21 per cent of Londoners are registered disabled which is a startling figure. “If you’ve got a disability then travelling is much more difficult, so we need lots of clubs all over London so that people can access somewhere that’s near to their home without having to get on public transport.”

Natasha is now heading up WeSwim as a full-time job, supported by a growing list of volunteers, which she is building up. “That’s important as people are giving their time to connect with others,” she says. “This is an important factor. As well as the exercise, we’re looking at the social element: helping people to meet each other and trying to tackle loneliness and isolation, which can be a real challenge for people with disabilities.” It also helps that it is good value, as disabled people are less likely to have disposable incomes.”

The sessions are obviously about swimming in its various forms. But they also span what Natasha calls “water confidence” and offer people the chance to be in a non-judgemental, supportive environment alongside what she calls “disability allies”. No pool prowess is needed, she adds. “Some people just do physio, others just come along for a bit of a chat.”

The groups are inclusive. Adults and children with physical and learning disabilities – including autism – are included and people’s abilities vary hugely. “We’ve got some people who have literally just started to learn to swim, and we’ve got one visually impaired man who swam the Channel last year. It really is across the whole spectrum of abilities.”

Up to 12 people come to each session so that WeSwim can keep it close to a one-to-one service – one volunteer to one swimmer – and also so the sessions remain undaunting and inclusive. A hoist is available at each venue.

The customers are delighted. “I’ve been meaning to start exercising for years since becoming Type 1 diabetic,” said Bob, who has a damaged eye and unclear speech after a motorbike crash in 2013. “This club has encouraged me to get exercising – and the staff don’t look at me or speak to me as if I’m weird, which regularly happens in some public spaces. Every Friday night, I now have a place where I can get fitter, improve my health, and make new local friends.”

Caroline, whose son has autism, said, “It has been a godsend for us”, while Tracey had been looking for a disability swim activity for her son, who has a learning disability. “I thought my son would really benefit and he agreed to go. Now WeSwim has become a big part of his life: a community he feels part of every week. He has fun with the volunteers and is increasing his social skills.”

Brian (not his real name) who had a life-changing accident, says, “Three months after the accident I found WeSwim and after three weeks of attendance was swimming full lengths of the pool with a slightly modified breaststroke – an unexpected milestone in my recovery. I was euphoric.” Although he has several scars, he didn’t fear displaying his body at WeSwim – and now intends to become a volunteer swimmer.

WeSwim costs £2 per session. Golden Lane pool is 7pm–8pm on Wednesday evenings. Ironmonger Row is 6.45–7.45 on Friday evenings. Volunteers are also wanted, apply through the website:

This article is from the June/July 2023 edition of EC1 Echo. Click here to download your copy now

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