Listening to the community
The Women Only Swim project is based at Leisure World Colchester, allowing a group of women predominantly from ethnically diverse communities to swim, safely without males present in the pool, changing areas or spectator area for cultural reasons.
During a community listening campaign run by Colchester Citizens, it was discovered that a group of women predominantly from ethnically diverse communities, really wanted to swim. Active Essex supported meetings between Colchester Citizen’s and Leisure World Colchester to help identify solutions to make the project happen, as well as organising funding through the Active Colchester network. After much consultation, sessions began in December 2018, continuing up until leisure facilities had to close due to COVID restrictions.
The project involved curtaining each window of the pool from the spectator area, preventing men from entering the mixed changing and walk through area to enable women to change and swim in seclusion. This was in addition to ensuring female lifeguards were on the rota for the sessions.
The group found that some individuals joined the sessions with medical reasons for needing ‘gentle exercise’. Having started exploring this issue further, Active Essex found other community groups had a desire for safe, truly women-only swimming sessions. Audiences such as the elderly who were self-conscious about weight or appearance, women with post-operative scarring or traumatic incidents in the past and women with body image issues or anxiety have all benefitted from these sessions.
The open design of leisure facilities has often made it difficult to create secluded areas which aren’t overlooked by people not involved in the sessions. Despite facility design factors that needed to be addressed, through continuing to work with partners, solutions have been created to enable the conditions that will meet the needs of the target audience.