Wild Wimmin Swimmin participants in the water

Taking the plunge

Open water swimming group has been supporting thousands of women’s physical and mental health.

Thousands of women have been improving their physical and mental health thanks to a women’s only open water swimming group – formed little over a year ago!

Through lockdown and with swimming pools closed, open water swimming became hugely popular with people taking to the seas, lochs and rivers in greater numbers than ever before.

Wild Wimmin Swimmin, based in Clackmannanshire, have been encouraging many new women to experience open water swimming, enjoy its health benefits and socialise with other women in a friendly and most importantly safe environment.

Beginning of Wild Wimmin Swimmin

Wild Wimmin was formed in July 2020 after founders Jenny Paterson and Heather Dewar were both made redundant from their jobs as a result of the Covid-19 pandemic.

Having tried wild swimming for themselves, they first-hand found the physical and mental benefits life changing.

The pair then started a Facebook group for their female friends to organise socially distanced group swims for all abilities.

Heather said: “Wild swimming along with the support of the group and each other helped us both through an uncertain and stressful time.

“Back when we first started, we would have been apprehensive about joining in with a group of experienced swimmers and definitely wouldn’t have felt comfortable getting changed in a mixed gender group. In a short period of time Wild Wimmin has grown into a strong, supportive and empowering community. The vibe for the group has always been about safely exploring open water swimming with other ‘wimmin’ alongside a strong ethos of camaraderie and fun.”

Jenny recalls a time early in the group’s existence when she realised that Wild Wimmin Swimmin was changing people’s lives after taking out a small group of six women out onto the water.

“On one occasion I had six newbies out swimming and just in that small group of women we had one in remission from cancer, one with fibromyalgia, one with multiple sclerosis, one recovering from knee surgery, another who felt socially isolated and wanted to meet new people, and one more who almost didn’t come along due to social anxiety but was so glad she did.

“I couldn't shake the feeling that I needed to do more, to reach more women. How many others were sitting at home feeling unwell, isolated, anxious, or depressed?

"Unbeknown to me Heather had a similar experience the following day and when I messaged her to tell her what I had been thinking, she came straight back with a reply to say she'd been thinking the same.”

“Fast forward one year and the group has over 2.3K members. It just goes to show that people are crying out for groups like this!”

What do Wild Wimmin Swimmin do?

There are several elements to the work that Wild Wimmin do. Firstly, they have social groups that organise regular swimming and paddle boarding meet ups across Scotland. 

In June this year they launched Wild Wimmin Ltd, a commercial but mission driven business that aims to transform the health and wellbeing of ‘wimmin’ in Scotland through swimming, adventures, and sisterhood, by running unique retreats in locations near water.

Both Jenny and Heather are STA Level 2 Open Water Swimming Coaches with additional qualifications in Aquatic Safety Management and have been running regular 1-1 and group coaching sessions.

There are plans underway to establish the Wild Wimmin Foundation, which will be a registered charity with the aim of ensuring that ‘wimmin’ and ‘wee Wimmin’ face no barriers to participating in outdoor activities with plans to purchase equipment like wetsuits and paddleboards.

Other exciting partnerships have been made with Clackmannanshire Council to reach more people locally, as well as early stage conversations with the NHS around social prescribing.

Safety first

It is well documented that swimming is a brilliant low impact, mood enhancing form of aerobic exercise. However, open water swimming does have associated risks, so the group are looking to educate all their members on the risks involved so that everyone takes as many positives from the experience as possible.

Jenny said: “We love wild swimming and enjoy all it offers but when it comes to trying it for yourself, safety is everything.

“As a result of lockdown, there has been a proliferation in the numbers of people swimming in open water and other water-based activities. We have tailored our latest block of beginners coaching sessions to include information around swimming safely in winter, which have proved to be really popular.”

Water safety is of course a serious issue. Everyone should be aware of the dangers and learn ways to stay safe. Water may look safe, but it can be dangerous. It is important to learn to spot and keep away from dangers and follow the Water Safety Code at all time times. You should never swim alone and children should always go with an adult. An adult can point out dangers or help if somebody gets into trouble.

The main dangers of water include:

  • Very cold temperatures
  • Hidden currents
  • It can be deep
  • It is difficult to estimate depth
  • There may be hidden rubbish like shopping trolleys or broken glass
  • It can be difficult to get out (steep slimy banks)
  • No lifeguards
  • Water pollution may make you ill

What they said

With 2.3K members from all walks of life, it’s clear to see that Wild Wimmin Swimmin plays a huge part in many peoples lives across Scotland.  

Heather said: “We have experienced the multiple physical and mental health benefits of open water swimming first-hand. We also know that loneliness and isolation, is one of the major contributory factors to poor mental and physical health and being part of a community like ours, which encourages friendships, has such a critical role to play – especially as part of the national Covid recovery plan. 

“Many women have reported massive improvements in their symptoms since starting swimming in cold water and we have a 100% return rate with everyone wanting to experience more.”

Wild Wimmin Swimming continue to change the lives of many women within the community with a small number of quotes from participants below.

Lucy, 31 said: “I’ve been dealing with depression for a number of years. Being part of an incredible supportive, open and welcoming community really helps you to relax, forget about your worries and find yourself again. Swimming with the Wild Wimmin helps me to be me.”

Libby, 47 said: “When I make my way into the water, whatever is on my mind just floats away and my senses come alive with the water and beauty that surrounds me. When I stop and look around, I see a beautiful tribe of smiling, neon tow floated, bobble hat wearing swimmers and it gives me a sense of belonging.”

Heather, 51 said: “Being part of Wild Wimmin has connected me to nature and to a new community of supportive women. It lifts your mood, gives you clarity, a sense of achievement and confidence. It’s an all-round therapy for both mental and physical health. I love it!”

Gail, 44 said: “I feel alive again after I had cancer and treatment. Wild swimming got me out in the world again and helped me to be active and meet new friends.”

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