OSS meet APPG on Swimming

01st February, 2018

On 31st January 2018 the Outdoor Swimming Society went to Portcullis House for a meeting of the new All Party Political Group (APPG) on Swimming. We were very well received and this group will be helping us to campaign for more access to inland waters for swimming, particularly in suitable reservoirs were many unnecessary restrictions still remain. 

On 31st January Robert Aspey, Chris Dalton, Imogen Radford, Kate Rew, Oliver Pitt and Nathan Willmott from the Outdoor Swimming Society attended the first meeting of the new APPG for swimming, set up by MPs Catherine West and Owen Smith. The APPG has been set up to focus on access and participation in swimming.

The key issue that the APPG seeks to address is increasing participation in swimming. Around the very large table – and behind it, as we were bigger than the room – sat representatives of swimming groups including Chris Romer Lee from the Thames Bath project, Swim England and the RLSS. The OSS is particularly interested to work with the group to create more inland access to swimming. Across Europe inland beaches are common, with the public using lakes in a similar way we have access to seaside beaches (free recreational use). But in the UK, bathers are often met with “no swimming”, “no public access”, and “bathers will be prosecuted” signs.

The key barrier is the widespread misunderstanding about liability – while sea swimming is accepted as at an individuals own risk, it is commonly thought that if you allow unsupervised, unlifeguarded swimming on your land, you will be liable for accident and injury. Case law in the UK shows quite the reverse; where there have been accidents and tragedies, the British courts have repeatedly looked at the individuals responsibility for their own actions.

“The first water authority in England and Wales who the OSS have managed to work with to set up a family friendly inland bathing beach is Anglian Water Services at Rutland Water reservoir,” says Robert Aspey, who heads up the OSS Inland Access Group and personally worked on Rutland Bathing Beach. “So far all the other water authorities (Welsh Water, Severn Trent Water, South West Water, Southern Water, United Utilities, Yorkshire Water, Northumbrian Water, Wessex Water, Thames Water) have said a resounding no. Some have started to allow some very limited swimming training, but not the recreational bathing and swimming beach model we really wish to push which would benefit the general public in terms of health, enjoyment & safety, especially during the summer school holidays.”

The OSS Inland Bathing Area Guide is a comprehensive exposition of the different models that landowners, councils and water authorities could use to allow bathing on their water, and the case law that demonstrates the limits of their liability.

Thing are already changing. The huge increase in the popularity of outdoor swimming, and positive perception of it OSS and OSS Inland Access group has worked hard on) is creating more advocacy, and leading more landowners to contemplate how they can open up facilities to swimmers. Anglian Water services setting up a family friendly beach at Rutland is a brilliant example of how increasing access can work, and the Lake District National Park authorities welcoming of swimmers (and use of information signs about risk, rather than ‘no swimming’ signage) is ground-breaking for the UK. We look forward to working with the APPG to talk to other water authorities and landownders, so wider numbers can benefit from the health and happiness benefits of swimming outdoors.  The wildswim map collection of Inland Beaches and Bathing Areas shows some of the great places we do have operating as inland beaches already.

The group talked about how we might persuade more water authorities and large landowners such as the Canals and Rivers Trust to follow in the wet footsteps of Anglian Water and the National Trust in the Lake District into welcoming swimmers, and providing safe signage, rather than restricting access to water. The RLSS is also working to open up more venues, pursuing a model with a high degree of safeguards and lifeguards through their SHOUT initiative with British Triathlon.

The meeting was lively and peppered with amusing stories from Owen Smith about his own (many) wild swim adventures  Chris Romer Lee introduced the room to his designs for a swimmobile, a swimming pool on an articulated lorry that many in the room wanted straightaway, to tour primary schools and help teach children to swim. (31% of children leave primary school unable to swim competently.  Competency in the UK is defined as being able to swim 25m in a pool without touching the bottom. Other countries use other standards, such as being able to swim 200m). He also talked through where the Thames Bath project stands currently.

Dennis Freeman-Wright from Swim England talked about regeneration of lidos, telling us that there are 716 lidos in this country, divided between conventional lidos, pools for private use (eg schools), and member only outdoor pools. He highlighted success stories that mark the turnaround in the fortunes of the country’s lido stock, noting that it is heritage lidos who are attracting the most funds, and all regeneration plans now work hard on sustainable plans which means introducing secondary revenue streams such as cafes and gyms. He mentioned Cheltenham lido attracting funding from English Heritage, the Jubilee Pool in Penzance looking at an upgrade, and Charlton Lido has done a lot to upgrade already. Owen Smith spoke about the success that he had as an MP raising £6.5million for the regeneration of Ponty Lido in Pontypridd, which has become the second most popular tourist attraction in Wales. The focus was how the group could do more in parliament to assist in the restoration in lidos.

The group will also be looking at increasing access to swimming lessons through schools.

It was a hugely positive meeting and seen as progressive that all swimmers – pool and outdoor – are part of the same group, and will be meeting together and supporting each others concerns. We will report back on progress.

Kate Rew, February 1st