For some religion the need for females to protect the core
of their culture is sacrosanct, and that can mean that a public
leisure centre session is a no-go.
So what's the solution?
Well, in Swansea they've found one that works.
Back in September 2014 a project was launched at Bishop Gore
school swimming pool that sees a dedicated community session run
for an hour every Wednesday evening.
To ensure no compromise on cultural and religious beliefs, the
session has a female lifeguard, a female Level 2 swimming teacher
and a female Level 1 swimming teacher.
The session is split into two parts. A structured swimming
lesson for those who need to learn and improve their swimming, and
a leisure swim for those who can already swim.
Louise Snelgrove, the Active Young People Officer at Swansea
Council, set up the session with Swansea-based EYST (Ethnic
Youth Support Trust). The initial focus was to target BME girls
from Bishop Gore and Olchfa schools to access swimming during
community time, and it is advertised on the 5x60 programmes at the
Initial predictions were that the majority of the sessions would
be made up of girls from Bishop Gore and Olchfa aged between 11-16
years old. However, the majority of the sessions have been attended
by women aged 35 plus.
The women and girls book through the EYST office based in the
Louise Snelgrove commented:
"Although the session was initially aimed at the 11-16 aged
pupils in Bishop Gore and Olchfa we thought it would encourage the
girls more to attend if they could come with their mums or aunties,
which is why the session is also open to women aged 16 years and
"The sessions are advertised on the 5x60 programmes as well as
When the project expanded following the initial success, funding
of around £1,000 was secured from the BME 'Kick Start' development
grant via the Sport Wales regional office.
30 sessions have been held in total since September 2014. The
capacity of the pool is 32 at any one time and the average
attendance has been 28 women and girls attending each week.
Shehla Khan, EYST Manager said:
"To be able to learn to swim is a skill most of us
take for granted but the sessions have given some women an
opportunity they have never had. It's a huge health benefit for
many as it's a great form of exercise and fitness and, due to a
lack of women only facilities in general, women from a BME
background have limited choice in accessing services.
"The social aspect has been great for the younger girls who have
had the opportunity to come and have leisure swimming and play in
the pool with their friends; again an option we all take for
granted but is not readily available to all members of our
They have thoroughly enjoyed these sessions and have improved
their swimming skills through play, diving and learning to perfect
their swimming techniques.
"The location has played a key role as it's an accessible
distance for most mums and daughters as well as the biggest factor
being the friendly female only staff that have been provided by
5x60 and Louise and her team. The ladies and girls have enjoyed
learning from the very friendly teachers.
"The success of the programme speaks for itself, a great turn
out and huge demand for it to continue."
Key Success Factors
1. EYST's close connection to the BME community and booking onto
the sessions is solely through their office.
2. The sessions provide opportunities for women and girls to
either learn to swim or improve their swimming, with qualified
level 1 & 2 swimming teachers. One teacher is in the water
teaching the non-swimmers, which puts the women at ease and it
makes them feel safer when someone is in the water with them.
3. The session also allows women and girls that already swim
access to a leisure swim in a pool with no windows and a female
lifeguard, which is difficult for the other leisure pools in
Swansea to offer.
4. The sessions are not free but are subsidised by grant