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Active Thames

Kent-based community of open water swimmers creating a strong sense of belonging and empowerment

Drinking from the cup of confidence

The Bluetits Chill Swimmers

With interest in open water swimming at an all-time high, funding from Active Thames has ensured The Bluetits Chill Swimmers continue to thrive and expand; meaning more members safely enjoying the vast benefits of sea swimming to wellbeing.

By Emma Blackmore

It’s not yet 9am when Julie Maver completes her first sea swim; her first dip of the day. Increasing avenues for inclusivity within open water swimming and spreading awareness of the benefits to mental health is next on her to-do list. And with 20 years of open water swimming coaching experience, there is no doubt she is up for the task.

“Affording people opportunities is the biggest thing you can do, and the more we do it, the more it’s going to become part of mainstream swimming,” Julie remarks. The 59-year-old is National Open Water Coaching Association (NOWCA) trained and has developed, under Kent-based charity Active Life, tailored and inclusive beginner and intermediate swimming courses for those who want to increase their confidence with pool and open water swimming.

“I’ve always had a passion to get into the peripheral edge of swimmers. I’ve taught men and women recovering from a stroke, claustrophobia, mental anxieties, grief and those with mobility issues. Everyone should have the chance to get the same pleasure out of the water that I get, and at the minute they’ve got to jump through so many more hoops just to get to the swimming pool.”

One way Julie hopes to remove these barriers is by supporting social enterprise The Bluetits Chill Swimmers; a social swimming group with a global reach. A local group for the Whitstable and Tankerton area was set up in 2020 after an increase in interest in open water swimming due to Covid-19 lockdowns. The group now has over 1,300 members. Having lived in Whitstable for over 25 years, Julie is very familiar with the tides and currents. Julie has provided a sea safety presentation to make the social swimmers, some of whom may have never swum in the sea before, aware of the geography of the coastline, the movement of the currents and the structure of the water.

“You have to swim aware when you’re in the sea. You’ve got to take responsibility,” Julie adds. “We forget being pool-trained how many visual clues there are: furniture, fittings, steps, lifeguards, signage. In the sea, it’s like swimming with a blindfold on, but the benefits are so huge that it is worth investing in and it’s worth doing it safely and properly.”

The Bluetits Chill Swimmers

“Everyone should have the chance to get the same pleasure out of the water that I get” ​
Julie Maver
The Bluetits Chill Swimmers member

A grant has been provided to the local group by Active Thames, a partnership programme led by the Port of London Authority, to allow more people to enjoy the mental and physical benefits of watersports. The Bluetits Chill Swimmers meet daily – sometimes twice a day – and have no fees, no age limits and no expectations.

Imogen Tinkler, 39, set up The Bluetits in Whitstable to welcome everyone from all abilities and backgrounds and create a community of those who have a pure love of the sea. She often meets new members before the sessions to discuss their anxieties about going into the sea to help them overcome their initial trepidation. While a large majority of the group are between 40-60 years old, some members are in their twenties while others are in their eighties. “The benefits of the swimming sessions are huge and it really builds confidence – you can see it every time they come back,” Imogen says.

The grant will allow The Bluetits to support members safely and expand a thriving community of like-minded individuals. For Imogen, the impact of The Bluetits community has been huge and forces her to put time aside for herself while juggling her own business and family life.

“I think when you strip down and you’ve got no makeup on, you’re just in your swimming costume or wetsuit, everyone is equal,” she says. “You build bonds very quickly and you’re doing something that is pushing your limits: if you’re going swimming in the snow, you’re going to remember that forever. You have to trust other people as anything could happen and everyone encourages each other and inspires each other. It’s amazing how quickly those friendships are formed.”

Julie, who was nominated as a finalist for the Physical Activity Hero Award at the UK Active Awards, agrees. “The sea is supportive and nurturing,” she says. “You exit the water, you’re cleaned, refreshed, reset and you’re ready to go out into the world. And it costs nothing. It’s available to everybody.

“It empowers men and women. The swimmers leave the sea drinking from the cup of confidence.”

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