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UK Coaching Team
Self-care and development Community Integration

Water Story! Swimming Coaches Put Residents of London Borough in Buoyant Mood

London Borough of Hounslow Swim Club is a true community powerhouse. The inclusive club holds group sessions for all ages, abilities and backgrounds, including refugees. UK Coaching’s Blake Richardson spoke to Head Coach Lisa Graham, whose infectious passion for coaching, strong sense of purpose and love of learning have been instrumental in the club’s success story

The energy and dynamism that runs through every member of the London Borough of Hounslow Swim Club’s coaching team could power half of London. 

While their network of coaches transmits positivity to hundreds of children, young people and adults, the primary source of this energy can be traced back to one person.

Lisa Graham is the West London club’s central ‘power station’. The live-wire former international swimmer is the club’s Head Coach and is doing a magnificent job of promoting social integration and tackling inequalities in swimming in the Borough.

Her enterprising approach ensured that when pools finally reopened their doors following the upheaval caused by the pandemic, the club was quick off the blocks.

During a period when many clubs were struggling to stay afloat, or at best were treading water – hampered by a dwindling volunteering workforce and a sharp fall in participation levels – the club flourished, thanks largely to a string of successful funding applications and effective community partnerships. 

Lisa and her team epitomise all that’s great about coaching: supporting personal growth and physical development; facilitating fun and friendship; building social change and community cohesion; promoting mental health and well-being.

In our Question & Answer, Lisa explains how the club achieved growth in a period of national decline, and shares her reflections, based on personal experience, of how great coaching can transform lives and entire communities.

Question & Answer

We will come on to the wide-ranging benefits your coaching is having on your participants, but I wonder if you can summarise what YOU get out of being a coach?

“When someone learns a new skill, for example, or when the competitive swimmers have completed a challenging set, it gives you a buzz seeing them jubilant because you feed off that positive energy.

It’s holistic growth, it’s personal growth. We’re shaping people, but you’re shaped as well as a coach. And you will be a better, more positive person by going through that coaching journey.

“If you’ve got a passion for sport and like engaging with people, then coaching is definitely for you.

“Coaching has developed my own personal skills. That’s what coaching does. I’ve learned to be an advocate for young people and people from every age and background in the Borough who don’t have a voice; that don’t have the opportunity to learn to swim. Coaching has given me the confidence to do that. 

“These children we coach are learning a lot of skills that they maybe don’t realise they are developing, but they will realise it when they are older. And that is because of coaching.

“Coaching helps participants develop as a whole person, and as a coach you are developing as a whole person too. You are always growing and always learning and there are so many opportunities to grow your craft. I find coaching so rewarding and so stimulating, because your learning never stops.”

Building a culture of diversity and inclusion is important to you as a club, and you have recruited volunteer coaches from different ethnic backgrounds. How important is it that we build a more diverse coaching workforce in the UK, representative of the multi-cultural society we live in?

“Diversity in our coaching team – which is a blend of paid and volunteer coaches –strengthens our relationships and gives us a deeper understanding of our richly diverse communities. We have become a local trusted organisation which brings communities together through our swimming sessions. 

“If you live in London, it’s incredibly diverse. We’re between 40 and 50 per cent ethnic minorities in our Borough and our club is extremely reflective of our Borough. 

If you can see it, you can believe it, so by participants and coaches seeing ‘someone like me’ it acts as a motivation and an inspiration. Our coaches are role models that people of the same race, religion, gender, whatever it may be, can relate to and they are showing people that this is a path that they can aspire to follow.

We open our doors, we open our minds, we ask questions, and we invite people in. 

“We identify people’s barriers, and we help people overcome them: whether it’s the right swimming equipment; obtaining funding; if they feel nervous about starting swimming; or feel there isn’t the right group they can participate in. 

“That is why we offer so many different groups. We cater for everyone, and we collaborate with other community organisations to enable us to do that.

“This is what coaching can do. It can really give you an opportunity to reach out and make a positive impact to those people who don’t have the opportunity to learn new things or try a new activity or sport. It enables you to engage with a wide range of people from all different ethnicities, all different backgrounds. 

“Everyone is learning and has that shared purpose. It is a wonderful feeling and that is what coaching has enabled me to do.”

Can you provide some more insight into the different group sessions the club runs?

“This term alone we have engaged 93 primary school age children with extracurricular swimming, for those children whose parents have financial difficulties. We are supporting them through a 12-week programme. We’re already signing people up for the autumn term and have funding to do the same for the spring term.

“We’ve done two terms so far for teenagers who live in and go to school in the Borough of Hounslow, for swimming and water safety sessions, which we do twice a week, and we run three sessions a week for children and young people aged 11 to 19 with disabilities at Oaklands School. 

We also partner with Hounslow School of Lifesaving, have a group that supports African and Asian women, and have just started a Refugee Women’s group. One of our coaches also teaches English as a second language to them.

“What I’m hoping for is when the swimmers in our funded groups get to a stage where they can go into our main club sessions… we transfer them in, so that they are having this prolonged aquatic experience and stay engaged within a club environment – because it is the social aspect which everyone needs. We’re humans after all.”

Filling in a funding application can be daunting, especially if you haven’t done it before. You seem to have become a maestro. What is your advice to other coaches and clubs on how to approach the application process?

“The process has been an eye-opener. I wanted to develop the skill to help my Borough, because we know from Covid that the physically fitter ones would survive and thrive but too often the people with the most to gain from being active are the least able to take part.

“I discovered StreetGames and the fantastic work they do, so applied to enrol our club to be part of their network. I attended every course/webinar I could fit in. StreetGames run fantastic Race for Investment courses, which resulted in me being successful in four funding bids. There I met a professional Bid Writer from Winning Post and we collaborated on two more successful bids.  

“A parent-volunteer, Katia, whose daughter joined us in November 2021, was instrumental in helping me to secure the latest funds – Swimming/Water Safety sessions for local disadvantaged children; a Women's African & Asian Support Group; and LEAH (Learn English At Home for Refugee Women) as one of our coaches teaches them English as an additional language. 

“We filled in these funding applications during the height of the pandemic when swimming pools remained closed and when we were concerned about the lasting impact Covid-19 would have on participation levels. 

I realised I was in a really good position to help people get physically fit, more resilient, and also help those with long-term health conditions improve their health outcomes by utilising funding opportunities, my position at the club, and my passion. So, I set about a plan to boost the number of groups and make swimming available to everyone.

“I also started to engage with other local groups, went on meetings, attended sessions of the Ealing and Hounslow Community and Voluntary Service, introduced myself to people from Hounslow London Borough Council and told them who I am and what I’d like to do. Then I started connecting with different organisations, telling them that we had a pot of funding and asking them if they would like to join us, and they have. 

“We have partnered with Sunshine of Hounslow (for ladies 40-74 years old) and Creative Spaces London, for example, a support group for young mums. They use us to run swimming programmes, as many have never had the opportunity to swim. It increases their health and well-being by giving them some time for themselves, and also helps them build new friendships.

And in some of the women’s groups that we put on, they write the funding applications themselves, as part of the holistic approach of using exercise to not only improve mental health and well-being, but wider life skills. That is a direct correlation of fantastic partnership working.

“And as well as partnering with Hounslow School of Lifesaving, we also partner with Team Keane Rowing & Paddle Sports. Together, we endeavour to engage our local communities with a wider range of water-based activities.”

What are some of the principal benefits of coaching?

“Being coached helps build a wide range of transferable skills for life: resilience, self-motivation, important team-building skills, and social skills. 

“That’s what our participants missed most during Covid, and what I was really frightened about: the damage to their mental health, because coaching and swimming can do wonders for your well-being.

Being coached at a club also provides the opportunity of friendship, shared purpose, exercising, keeping yourself busy, learning different skills.

“What’s really lovely about our community sessions on Sundays is that we have a free session for teenagers that runs alongside our session for competitive swimmers. What happens is that our competitive swimmers ask if they can help and are in the water doing demonstrations and supporting the young people who are roughly the same age themselves. 

“It’s great peer-to-peer learning, and of course the swimmers are learning communication and inter-personal skills, and auditory skills, because they have to listen to the instruction and then perform the skill they are being coached in. It’s lovely to see.”

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