The Outdoor Swimming Society provides a space within which a community of independent spirits can share the joy and adventure of swimming outdoors, and put the fun back into swimming. In the early 1900s there were river swimming clubs and lidos all over the country, but outdoor swimming died out as indoor pools came in.
Outdoor swimming can be hard to define, and we don’t really want to pin it down. Perhaps the one shared element for all of us is that we swim under an open sky. Otherwise we are a very broad church, swimming lakes, lochs and lidos, salt and fresh, cool and cold, and of course bloody cold! We enjoy the sport of swimming as well as the art, and there are dawdlers and racers, poets and pacemakers. Some wear skins, some wear just their skin. We don’t see a right or wrong way to swim, it is taking the plunge that matters.
The OSS aims to represent the interests of all the different kinds of outdoor swimmer by providing inspiration, connection and a community. We provide information about places to go outdoor swimming, and about events. We also provide advice about swimming safety and other aspects, and we help people to connect, and share projects, websites, advice, photos, videos, stories, experiences and ideas.
We don’t organise events (with one or two exceptions), we are not a teaching organisation, and we are certainly not a governing body. We see ourselves more as a grapevine or a loose framework in which all the different outdoor swimming activity in the UK and across the globe can come together.
Through the website, our OSS Facebook Group, Instagram feed (@theoutdoorswimmingsociety) and association with the crowd-sourced map wildswim.com we seek to keep outdoor swimming wild and free, supporting all those keeping lidos open and lakes and rivers clean and accessible, and promoting outdoor swimming in all its myriad forms.
The OSS was established in 2006. 10 years ago outdoor waters were perceived by many as uninviting: dangerous, illegal, dirty and cold. Since then they have become increasingly something to be celebrated, photographed, written about and explored. The body of knowledge on safety is growing and the common sense of the community with it, as is our resource section ‘Survive‘ to assist people swimming safely. We are based in the UK but with members worldwide. Please jump in and join us!
The OSS was founded in 2006, and all of the current directors – Kate Rew, Michael Worthington, Oli Pitt and Kari Furre – were involved at that time. Most of the work and richness of the society comes from individuals and agencies who donate time, creativity and expertise. We have grown organically by about 30% a year, perhaps reflecting the growth in popularity of outdoor swimming. The society now (January 2016) has 25,000 members and 18,000 Facebook users.
The OSS has always aimed to be more a loosely organised collective, a movement rather than a more hierarchical organisation as it reflects the free-spirited and slightly renegade nature of outdoor swimming – becoming a charity or developing a hierarchical structure would (in the words of Anna Morell, now the arts correspondent, previously the newsletter editor) be ‘like putting chlorine in the water’. However, recently due to the huge increase in the size of the membership we have found it necessary to formalise our activity by creating an Advisory Council and Members Council (more on the team page on this soon, January 2016). We have however avoided more formal structures (for example CIC) as these would prevent us campaigning for changes in the law around swimming*.
However, the work does have a cost, which needs to be covered. Funds are raised for the OSS by a single yearly event, the Dart10k, which functions as a kind of AGM for the OSS, where we come together in one place to do what we love. The Dart10k donates a percentage of its ticket price to the society, and other funds are raised by the sale of merchandise. This income covers the website fees and some salary for the director, the only paid staff.
We are always looking for contributors to join the OSS Team on a voluntary basis to help with the work we do to keep outdoor swimming wild and free, supporting all those keeping lidos open and lakes and rivers clean and accessible, and promoting outdoor swimming in all its forms. So if you are interested, we would love to have your contribution. Come along and jump in!