7th June 2022
Accidental drownings in the UK have risen for the second year in a row, according to the latest figures from the National Water Safety Forum.
The Forum’s Water Incident Database reports a rise of 23 accidental drownings in the UK’s inland and coastal waters in 2021 compared to the previous year. This figure forms part of the 616 total water-related deaths recorded in the UK in 2021.
The Water Incident Database research shows that most accidental drownings occur when people are running or walking next to the water. Put all this together and you have a compelling argument for ensuring both children and adults learn how to swim and get themselves out of trouble if they fall into water.
But how can we deliver these essential life skills when we have a shortage of swimming teachers? According to Swim England, there is a national shortage of 8,000 swimming teachers (Swim England 2021). A workforce insight report issued in December 2021 by CIMSPA (Chartered Institute for the Management of Sport and Physical Activity) – the professional development body for the UK’s sport and physical activity sector – also showed that operators across the UK were experiencing staff shortages, the largest of which were among swimming teachers.
People have left the profession for a number of reasons, including poor rates of pay – two members of my own family did so for the same reason. Addressing pay will go a long way to attracting and retaining these professionals at a time when their skills are needed more than ever.
But there are other factors at play here too. One of which is the condition of our workplaces. So many of our leisure centres are outdated and in a shocking state of disrepair. Staff who work in these centres are constantly having to fence off complaints about faulty equipment, problems with dodgy showers and smelly changing rooms, which is not only extremely frustrating but can lead to low morale. Is it any surprise that staff get fed up and move on?
According to the Local Government Association, local authorities are the biggest providers of swimming pools in the country; 85 per cent of young people learn essential swimming and water safety skills in a public swimming pool.
Thanks to the pandemic, Swim England estimates that 1.88 million children have missed out on school swimming lessons. Of this, an estimated 532,000 of children come from ethnically diverse communities and 411,000 live in the most deprived areas in England.
We cannot afford to lose our swimming teachers. We have to address pay and invest in high quality, cost effective and environmentally friendly facilities – like the Swim Centre concept we at Paragon Structures designed with Cowan Architects for Swim England – to ensure everyone has the opportunity to learn this critical life skill and stay safe in and around water.