Among all the challenges of 2020 – lockdown, lido closures, event cancellations, lockdown – there is one happy story: outdoor swimming has hit the tipping point. Early adopters of the sport are now welcoming a huge number of newcomers to the community, with the summer surge of swimmers being followed by a winter high. This feels like the golden age of swimming, and the OSS team couldn’t be happier about it.
Following the huge success of the OSS Christmas Cracker Fundraising raffle we are delighted to announce that our online platforms are secure for another year. Just as important as this to our ongoing future as a society were the messages of support, thanks and encouragement from the community which we received since the cancellation of the event programme in 2020 and 2021. Many of the core team are possibly a bit more introvert than extrovert, making our contributions to the community behind the scenes, so this one-off chance to hear what people think about what we do and what we make has really reinflated our spirits.
So, while things seemed a bit bleak at times this year, we find ourselves moving forward into 2021 with enough security to be able to dream: how are we going to meet the exponential growth in interest in swimming, what community gifts can we dream up that swimmers might like to be part of. Thank you to all of those that have made that possible. We are really grateful to each and every one of you who has donated to us this year (if I was any clearer about GDPR surrounding Paypal and Crowdfunder I have messaged you personally).
As the Founder of The OSS, I’d like to say a huge thank you to all of the OSS team for our work together in 2020. Their work is voluntary, and the demands on their time to keep community channels open and welcoming to all is often daily. We are also as a community deeply thankful to all those working to keep lakes and lidos open; rivers, seas and lakes clean; and swim communities large and small thriving. Local wild swim groups in the UK have born the brunt of the increasing popularity of swimming, with much of their work unseen. Wherever you look, if you look, you will see people doing remarkable things out of a passion for swimming and this wonderful and maybe unexpected sub culture we have helped cultivated around that shared love.
In some club news, after five years steerage and input, Kari Furre and Oliver Pitt are stepping down as directors, and Morgan Jones and Beth Pearson are stepping up. Kari and Oli have done so much for The OSS from the start in 2006. We would not be the shape we are without them, and they both remain firmly in their OSS team in their day to day roles as they relinquish their directorial input. Their legacy will live on, and so will our friendships and relationships.
Kari is known to many of you for her inspirational route-finding ways. Kari and I met in 2006 and our friendship grew in as I started The OSS, as we swam round the country together. I will always remember Kari laughing as we swam around one of the Scottish lochs, wondering what we were doing, saying ‘we are giving people permission that is not ours to give!’. That really was how The OSS began: by just standing up and saying to people on any stage or platform an in any inspirational way we could find, ‘you can actually do this.’ How nice that in 2020 people take that right as their own. A left field creative and artist, Kari has always made up her own rules, with the Dart10k a result of her waking up one morning in her nearby house, looking at a map, and going for a really nice long swim. Following her selection for Saatchi Collect a few years ago with her fishskin, she has gone back to university this autumn to do an MA. We anticipate she will remain my muse, and the Vaseline Lady at OSS events, just as soon as we can get those started again.
Oliver is also known to all of those as the stalwart, indefatigable moderator of OSS Facebook, a parallel OSS world that now sees up to 1000 people try to join it at weekends. Currently with 67k members on the group, and 19k on the page, guiding this group over 13 years is a significant achievement. Whenever there are negative documents and news about the evils of social media, which we all know about, I always want to defend it just slightly and say: not always. As a virtual club of people with what used to be a pretty rare lifestyle, social media is the basis on which we ‘find the others’, and Oli’s custodianship of FB, working to instil into the platform the kindness and respect, has been unflinching. When Caitlin Moran joined the group a few years ago saying a friend had told her it ‘was the friendliest place on the internet’. That, in large part, is down to Oli. Happily, Oli is staying on in that role, while standing down as director, and will be launching a new business of stand up desks which I can’t wait to get behind.
I am delighted to announce that two new directors have been appointed: Beth Pearson (elsewhere editor) and Morgan Jones (production editor of elsewhere, and many other things besides – Morgan has held more OSS roles than any other human being). Beth and Morgan have stepped up to steerage roles over this year, guiding us through the various crises of the summer around wildswim.com and other social media squalls, and will be splitting the responsibility of voluntary running the society going forward.
I am also delighted to announce that Ali Couch is stepping up to be Operations Manager for the year ahead. This is a real seachange in giving the society a sustainable future, which we all want to be as authentic, enlivening, inspiring and different as we’ve ever been.
These changes will probably impact me most of all, splitting the growing workload and thinking load (and time involved) to a greater degree – thanks to all of you who’ve helped us get this far! Much kindness, insight and support has been input from many quarters along the way, and the messages to the society on the crowdfunder were an amazing boost.
So – Merry Christmas everyone, and look forward to catching up with you all in the New Year.
Kate Rew, December 2021
Follow Kate on Instagram @kate_rew