Syrian refugee families visit a swimming pool in Edinburgh

Pooling together

Refugees in Edinburgh given opportunity to learn how to swim

Swimming is a life skill that everyone may need at some point in their lives, so it is vital to provide everyone with the opportunity to practise the skills of being competent in the water.

As part of their GO LIVE! Get Active funding, Royal High Community Sport Hub (CSH) have been part of a community-led project aimed at engaging inactive women and families from the local Syrian refugee community in swimming.

In partnership with The Welcoming, a charity that delivers educational and social integration programmes across Edinburgh to migrants, refugees and minority ethic communities, and Edinburgh Leisure, a group of 50 local women and their families were identified as looking to engage in swimming in a women-only environment within the area.

Jonathan Wallace, former Royal High community sport hub officer, said: “The partnership was initiated by The Welcoming, who had surveyed their local families on activities they wished to engage in at local facilities.

"The charity then contacted myself and the Edinburgh Leisure (EL) active communities officer. From here we worked together to develop a programme which catered for the needs of the participants.”

Outcomes for the project

Following the success of a pilot delivered by Edinburgh Leisure, a block of closed swimming sessions was delivered through 2018 and 2019 for all members of the local refugee community, with the following aims:

  • improving confidence in the water
  • helping to make friends and family connections
  • increasing enjoyment of living in Edinburgh
  • creating confidence to travel within Edinburgh and to the hub
  • providing access to more sport, activities and facilities in the area
  • providing opportunities to progress to club and EL swimming session.

The initial sessions aimed to familiarise and develop the group's basic water and swimming skills and has since given participants a pathway to attend regular swimming lessons and integrate with the wider community.

Young leaders

As part of the project's funding five young female volunteers from local schools and CSH member clubs (Hearts ASC, #3 Triathlon and Aquatic Learning SC) were put through their level 1 swim teacher and National Pool Lifeguard Qualifications (NPLQs) to enable them to deliver and supervise the weekly sessions, as well as ensure the long-term sustainability of the programme.

In coordination with local Active Schools coordinator Matthew McLachlan, the young volunteers have since been given the opportunity to get involved in other paid work through the hub and EL.

Matthew said: “We’re delighted with the success of the young people from the local clubs who volunteered to deliver the project.

"It has benefited each in a number of ways, from gaining swim teaching experience to paid working opportunities and also providing worthwhile knowledge that has been applied in university applications and interviews.”

Positive feedback

The programme has resulted in far wider outcomes than just improving participants' ability to swim:

  • 90% of participants said they met new people
  • 80% said they had improved their English as a result of the programme 
  • Over two-thirds said the programme had helped to improve their confidence, allowing them to integrate better into their community.

The Welcoming’s health and wellbeing coordinator, Louise Turner, said: "These safe and supportive swim sessions provide the women and children with a space to access culturally appropriate leisure facilities, form friendships and practise their English."

Looking to the future

After the overwhelmingly positive feedback that has been received, the programme will continue for 2020 with more young people identified to help support and supervise the sessions. The new block will see the introduction of a women’s only swimming block, as well as including more CSH member clubs so that the programme can offer a range of sports for participants to engage with.

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