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Old friends and fellow swimmers, Hayley O’Neill, Jay Parsons and Glen Isaacs knew there was something fundamentally missing in the provision of swimming lessons and clubs in their local area of Medway, South East England. During the first lockdown in 2020, they made the decision to do something about it, and set up the Medway Maritime Swim Club.

What was the impetus behind setting up the club?

Medway Maritime Swim ClubHayley: We’re three old swimming friends who go back to the 80s, when we all swam and/or coached together in the same club. Swimming was our life; we swam almost every day and there was always a strong social side. We’d always be together, in the pool or meeting up at each other’s houses, going to the cinema, shopping – and all our families were involved as well. There was a real closeness and community feel and everyone looked out for everyone else.

That community and social side has been lost over the years and we all felt that there was now a disconnect between local swim schools and swim clubs, which meant that keen swimmers were unable to progress after leaving their swim school. We decided it was time to act and formed the Medway Maritime Swim Club in Autumn 2020.

What makes Medway Swim Club different?

Jay: There are many things that make our club different. Firstly, there is a whole wealth of experience amongst our coaches and members and we really work to support our members both physically and mentally. It’s not just about getting in the pool and swimming; we know people sometimes come to us after a bad day at school or work, and they need a boost to help them get the best out of training and enjoy themselves.

Many clubs have certain entry criteria, but we are open to everyone; it doesn’t matter whether you’re an elite swimmer at national level, an adult who can’t swim, someone with special needs who loves being in the water or someone who just wants to improve their swimming, we welcome everyone.

Medway Maritime Swim ClubHayley: And we can offer something to everyone too. We are forming partnerships with other local clubs and services so that we can offer access to other linked activities like diving, artistic swimming and lifesaving. The idea is that swimmers join us and have access to whatever they want to do. Our main incentive is that they come along, try things and enjoy it, as we did.

The benefits of swimming are massive. I always remember an experienced coach once saying to me that swimming would set me up for life. Swimming gives a workout to the whole body from head to toe, it builds up the lungs and heart and it’s a fitness you never lose. Swimming is also not a weight-bearing sport so there are fewer injuries and it keeps you agile, supple and toned all over. Mentally, you just can’t beat that feeling of getting out of the pool after a swim and feeling completely revitalised from head to toe.

Setting up a new club must have its costs. How have you managed to fund it?

Jay: We are all volunteers in the club and we have had to raise money in all sorts of ways. We are really grateful to our sponsors, including NSK UK, who donated £1,000 to enable us to purchase the software system we needed to run the club. One of our members is NSK’s Institutional Business Manager, Mark Beckwith, who helped us talk to NSK UK’s Managing Director, Alex Breitenbach about how pivotal the software was to our plan. His response was more than we had ever hoped for.

There are a lot of expenses involved in setting up a new club. Even small things like backstroke flags cost £500 a piece. We couldn’t have done this without our sponsors and crowdfunders who have helped us get so much closer to our target for putting our future plans into action – getting everyone back in the water and re-establishing a swimming community in Medway.