Swim Dem is a London-based swimming project that was recently recognised for its outstanding work when it won a prestigious award at the annual British Ethnic Diversity Sports Awards. We caught up with them for a chat about their unique club.
So how did this thing get started? Where did the idea come from?
Swim Dem: “Summer of 2013 is when it all began. We (Nathaniel, Peigh & Emily) would often swim separately. Peigh mainly south as he had only learned that year and Emily and Nathaniel in Hackney. So we thought why not do it together?! We all met through Run Dem Crew and figured that we could create a positive community based around the water.”
Running a community based sports club or project is not easy and comes with a range of responsibilities. What aspect of it do you feel is the most fundamentally important?
“For us, the most important aspect is that we have a good time while doing it. Yes, there’s admin and social media upkeep but that’s a part of it all. We would hate for Swim Dem to feel like work.”
Swimming doesn’t come naturally to everyone, indeed many fear water. How do you go about the practicalities of helping people overcome these often deep-seated fears?
“We make it as welcoming as possible, and start in the shallow end of course! It’s hard for an adult to be scared of water that they can literally stand up in. It’s often about establishing a relationship with the swimmer so that they can trust you. Adults don’t have to do things that they don’t like, that’s the hardest thing for them, letting go of those fears, trusting someone else and doing something that they don’t like.”
Can you describe a regular Swim Dem session? How is it different to standard swimming tuition?
“Well, we’re all in the water for a start! On a Monday night we’ll meet in the reception of our usual spot and Nathaniel will go through the set for the Sharks, Dolphins and Tadpoles in the crew, explaining all the drills and timings. Those sessions are about working hard. Saturdays are quite different, we’re typically at a pool we’ve never been to before and we keep it a lot more social. The Saturday swims are more social and we look at learning new things in the pool as opposed to working up a real hard sweat. After the session is done we all head out for breakfast so we can have the best start to the weekend possible!”
Swimming isn’t an obviously sociable pursuit – you can’t really chat while you swim. How do you make the sessions more sociable?
“We’re friends first and swimmers second. We split our sets up with rest periods in between for us to catch up with each other. Our Saturday swims are always followed up by breakfast afterwards and that’s where we really get to chat to each other properly. Swim Dem isn’t about everyone being able to swim, it’s about everyone being together.”
You have broken the mould in terms of swimming clubs. Do you see more clubs in future following your lead?
“Some new crews are bound to pop up. We can’t see any current swimming clubs trying to adopt our model though, it’s not for them. We have different aims to traditional ones, and that’s fine.”
What social barriers and stereotypes do you hope to challenge or even break down?
“It’s no secret that swimming is often advertised as a sport for the elite and those only interested in the performance aspect. We want to help change that and show that swimming is for all.”
What was your overriding emotion when you won such a prestigious award as the Community Sports Project of the Year? Has it added more pressure to keep delivering?
“It was a feeling of confusion and happiness! We didn’t go to the award show thinking that we would win at all. It’s added pressure on us to keep on moving in the same direction with the right mindset, if we do that, more success will come our way.”
I was always good at most sports but I am a hopeless swimmer, and it feels destined to always remain that way. What advice would you give to rubbish swimmers like me?
“Get in the water and relax! People often panic in the water too much, especially if they’re good at other sports. With most sports, the harder you push, pull etc. the more work you’ll do. With swimming it’s kinda the opposite, fight the water and it will just laugh in your face. You have to relax and learn how to feel the water, slowly and then you’ll start to make some progress.
“You can’t get better at something without trying it a few times. Even though we can swim, we still struggle with certain strokes (Butterfly the main culprit) so each week we make sure we do a bit of it, otherwise we know we’re never going to improve.
“Lessons are worth their weight in gold too. We offer them too!”
It’s been a pretty meteoric rise for Swim Dem. Where next for the Swim Dem Crew?
“We’re going to take over the world! In all honesty though, we’re going to keep on touring London’s best pools and growing our community. There will be more projects to come for sure!”
Thanks so much to Swim Dem for taking the time out of their busy schedules to chat to us. Their club is unique and inspiring, and we wish them continued success in the future.
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