A Summer of Swimming: Launch of our campaign to equip youngsters with life-saving skills
- Credit: PA
A summer-long campaign to encourage more people across the region to take up swimming, highlight safety in the water and fight for facilities is today launched by this newspaper.
We are launching our Summer of Swimming campaign amid concerns that while swimming remains the country's most popular sport, participation is falling and too many children are growing up without basic swimming skills.
It is even more vital in the east - surrounded by coast and punctuated by rivers and Broads, water takes centre stage in our landscape.
And every year tragedies occur in our waters, both coastal and inland.
We'll be looking at how to swim safely, how parents can ensure youngsters get their water wings and how adults who never learned can still become confident in water.
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We will put the microscope on swimming in schools - as many pools close, it is increasingly difficult for children to receive lessons.
And we'll also be asking others to consider how they can get involved - from an instructor willing to donate lessons to a pool able to offer free tuition.
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Already, bosses at Norwich's Riverside Leisure Centre have backed our campaign and will be giving 40 schoolchildren free lessons.
Our campaign has been backed by Great Yarmouth-born Paralympic swimmer Jessica-Jane Applegate, a gold-medal winning and record-setting athlete.
Though a love for the sport developed early on, she said her mum initially taught her to swim to keep her safe.
'I am supporting this
campaign in the hope that more children will take up swimming and enjoy their time around water,' she said.
'It does not matter if they do not want to become an Olympic swimmer or even if they never compete - I can understand why not with getting up at 4am in the morning - but what is important is that every adult and every child can swim to give them the life skills to be safe around water.
'In Norfolk and Suffolk we are surrounded by water, lakes, rivers, the sea and ponds so I believe that it is vital to be able to swim.'
The whole-body - and low impact - work out of swimming and its child-friendly nature makes it a popular sport - and Britain's Olympic success saw it enjoy a further boost.
But in recent years numbers have declined, with 390,700 fewer people taking part from 2014 compared to 2015, according to Sport England.
And 2015 figures from Swim England, the latest available, show that just 52pc of children aged from seven to 11 could swim 25 metres unaided, despite it being a national curriculum requirement.
A number of high-profile drowning deaths in recent years, including 16-year-old Umar Balogun at Bawsey Pits in 2013 and Stella Kambi, 17, and Bonheur Musungay, 14, at Thorpe Marshes in 2015, have thrust the safety concerns into the spotlight.
Backing the campaign, Phil Wright, Places for People's contract manager for Riverside Leisure Centre, which it runs, said: 'We are delighted to be supporting the Summer of Swimming campaign. Swimming is not only a great, fun form of exercise, but it is a vital life skill for young people, particularly in a coastal region.
'We hope to encourage parents and families to make sure their children, grandchildren, nieces and nephews are confident and safe around water – and remind people of what great fun an afternoon at the pool can be.'
The campaign has also received support from Norwich City Council and Active Norfolk, which work to promote safe swimming.
Martine Holden, the council's leisure and sport development manager, said: 'As a council, we are committed to working with partners to improve access to swimming, increase participation and enhance safety around water.
'So of course we are very pleased to be able to support
the Summer of Swimming,
with even more opportunities to learn to swim and enjoy the facilities available at Riverside Leisure Centre.'
Stephen Hulme, development manager for children and young people at Active Norfolk, said the body supported any campaign to raising awareness of the importance of learning to swim.
'In a county surrounded by water, both inland and on the coast, swimming is not only a vital life skill but a fantastic activity to help realise all of the benefits of maintaining an active and healthy lifestyle,' he said.
Here are just some of the ways you can do your bit to support our Summer of Swimming campaign.
• Pledge to find a way for you or your children to learn to swim if you or they don't already. If you do so make sure you tell us about it.
• Encourage your children, friends and family, particularly those with young children, to learn more about how to keep safe around water
• Campaign for your local school to make sure they are completing their national curriculum requirement for swimming
• If you run a swimming club or lesson, think how you can encourage more young people to learn and take up the sport
• Did learning to swim save your life? Do you regret never learning? Share your thoughts with us on why becoming a proficient swimmer is so important
• Whatever you can do to promote swimming as an activity or to highlight how to stay safe in the water, please do let us know.
Click here for information on swimming lessons and sessions in Norwich
• If you think you can help, email firstname.lastname@example.org