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You may think it's Black History Month, but to us it's just October

Seren Jones, co-founder of Black Swimming Association, considers diversity in aquatics and the true meaning of Black History Month to many in the Black community.

12th October 2021

by Seren Jones
Co-founder, the Black Swimming Association

Every year on the first of October, things appear to shift. Whether it’s the tone of the mainstream media, the country’s education curriculums or the marketing and messaging of Britain’s biggest brands - for one month of the year, much of society’s awareness and recognition of Blackness is heightened due to Black History Month.

Members of Black Swimming Association

But apart from enduring what can feel like endless conversations about race among our peers, colleagues and for some in the media, for many people in the Black community, October signifies very little tangible change. The 10th month of the year is merely an abrupt reminder that the days are getting shorter, the weather is getting colder, and the 100-day or so countdown to the new year is already well and truly underway.

Although the acceptance of Black History Month has been widely received across the country in recent years, the truth is that for individuals, groups and organisations fighting for racial equality on a daily basis, it’s just another month of doing what we do to the best of our ability.

And at the Black Swimming Association (BSA), that’s exactly where we find ourselves: constantly working to diversify a sector that for too long has precluded people from African, Caribbean and Asian backgrounds.

In this blog, we’d like to highlight some of the work the BSA has been doing, like many other Black charities and organisations, every day of the year.

Announcing our strategic plan

Since the launch of the charity last year, we’ve committed to being the bridge between the aquatics sector and the disenfranchised African, Caribbean and Asian communities across the UK.

Our programme of work includes multiple facets, ensuring a robust and iterative approach to building trust and engagement between communities and the sector.

As well as this, we've been working endlessly to build a strong learning culture that underpins our partnerships and collaborations with both the aquatics and education sectors.

Our vision is to work towards a future with diversity in aquatics. In order to do so, we’ve broken down our goal into a five-step process:

  1. We’re engaging directly with the sector and disenfranchised communities to develop key relationships and collaborative partnerships.
  2. We’re building trust, accountability and building bridges into the disengaged communities the sector wishes to attract.
  3. We’re increasing awareness of water-safety and the health benefits of aquatics within ethnically diverse communities and fostering equality, diversity and inclusion within the wider aquatics sector in a bid to tackle inequalities.
  4. We’re supporting African, Caribbean and Asian communities by understanding their aquatic behaviours, whilst identifying and removing barriers to participation.
  5. We’re working to increase the number of people from these communities who are involved in aquatics; from participation in sport to the aquatic workforce and from grassroots to the boardroom.

We’ve held the aquatics sector to account and have set ambitious goals to tackle the exclusivity that surrounds the world of aquatics, making the life-saving skill of swimming accessible to everyone.

For the first time in history, a body in the aquatics sector will conduct adult social research, and will therefore gain real insight into whether the barriers preventing people from these communities from engaging in aquatics are cultural, faith-based, community-influenced or based on individual circumstances.

Industry pioneering research

In August, we made a bold move and announced the launch of our pioneering research project with the aim to dispel some of the myths surrounding African, Caribbean and Asian communities and their relationship with water safety.

For the first time in history, a body in the aquatics sector will conduct adult social research, and will therefore gain real insight into whether the barriers preventing people from these communities from engaging in aquatics are cultural, faith-based, community-influenced or based on individual circumstances.

We’ll be working with Professor Mike Tipton, who is the lead researcher and an academic partner at the University of Portsmouth.

Professor Tipton will lead the water-based research, which is expected to analyse the physiological reasons that are widely believed to prevent people of African, Caribbean and Asian heritage from being proficient swimmers, whilst teaching participants about floatability.

Additionally, the research project will be woven into a large-scale community engagement programme and will also intend to create lasting relationships between disengaged communities and the aquatics sector.

Once the research has been conducted, we will then work with our partners across the leisure, health and education sectors to co-create solutions and enable stronger representation in all levels of aquatics.

Hackney delivery pilot

Not only have we created our seat at the table of the British aquatics sector, but we’ve also been putting our efforts into focusing on the most crucial part of our charity: the community and engagement. Just a few days before we announced the launch of our research project, we kicked off our local learn-to-swim delivery pilot in London.

Teaming up with Hackney Council and local grassroots organisation BADU Sports, we took a handful of hesitant swimmers of all ages - some of whom had not been in a pool before - from being fearful or hesitant in the water to being what we call ‘water confident’ or able to float without assistance in just one hour. Among the swimmers was Hackney Mayor, Philip Glanville, and among the spectators was Diane Abbott MP.

The pilot was such a success with the participants that we are now looking to deliver the programme on a larger scale across all boroughs of London, and eventually, nationwide.

In just 19 months, our charity has grown from being run by four co-founders with a shared vision to an ever-growing team delivering learn-to-swim pilots, conducting pioneering research and engaging the community in an essential life-saving skill and a sector that can change their lives for the better. But despite our phenomenal growth and supplying the ongoing demand for diversifying the sector, we need the backing of national governing bodies, brands and charities in the aquatics sector; strategically, socially and financially.

Listening and investing this month goes a long way, but what will make a real impact and what will create significant change is long-term commitment. Because as soon as this month is over, the BSA will continue doing what we do to the best of our ability.

Our vision doesn’t end in October.

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