Not just a way to keep cool and have some fun, swimming is an excellent way to increase our fitness levels. It’s no surprise then that swimming is Australia’s most popular sport, with a 2018 report by Roy Morgan Research stating that 6 million Aussies were either swimming regularly or occasionally.
Yet despite our love for the water, not everyone has traditionally been able to access swimming programs or facilities.
“Swimming and water play are among Australia’s favourite pastimes, but access to inclusion in swimming and water safety lessons remains elusive for many,” says Dr Jeff Walkley, Belgravia Leisure’s Diversity and Inclusion manager.
This is why the Belgravia Foundation in partnership with Swimming Australia have developed a program to ensure everyone is able to participate in the pool – the Move It AUS All In! Project.
“The Belgravia Foundation believes everyone has the right to access a healthy and active lifestyle,” says Dr Walkley.
“We recognise that some people have barriers to participation – one barrier being access to swimming and water safety programs.”
Some of the benefits of swimming include toned muscles, weight loss, increased flexibility, improving breathing and asthma, lowered stress levels and the building of endurance.
According to a recent overseas study by Swim England, swimming can also be beneficial for our mental health. Their 2018 study found that 1.4 million British swimmers reported a reduction in the symptoms of depression or anxiety through the act of swimming.
Enabling all people to access these benefits is what underpins the Move It AUS All In! Project.
This engagement starts with the staff, who are vital to ensuring an inclusive environment for all. That’s why the project will involve implementing and evaluating a system of online training to best support staff.
It is expected that approximately 75 swim school teachers from around 20 aquatic venues will participate in the training. The participating centres are based all around Australia, with a mix of metro (such as Ascot Vale and Knox in Melbourne) and country (including The Barossa in South Australia, and Nambour in Queensland) locations.
This upskilling will lead to the improved capacity of the teachers to welcome, support and include people with a disability or from a diverse background to the centres.
This increased capacity will enable people who ordinarily might struggle to access swimming services to participate. It is predicted that the Move It AUS All In! Project will lead to 3,600 visits by people with a disability and people from cultural and linguistic diversity, who otherwise might not feel comfortable or able to take part.
The term ‘diversity’ encompasses any person from a culturally or linguistically diverse background – they may have limited English skills for example, or be newly arrived in Australia.
Disabilities can be anything that impairs or restricts a person in completing everyday activities – a cognitive, intellectual, neurological, physical, sensory or mental impairment.
It is estimated that 70% of the population who have a disability have autism or an intellectual disability. Training in the Move It AUS All In! Project will include components specifically focused on autism and intellectual disability, due to their prevalence.
Dr Walkley says that the program, with its focus on providing support, is addressing a gap.
“Learning swimming and water safety skills and behaviours for many people living with a disability requires additional supports to enable this capacity to accrue,” he says.
This increases the cost of swim programs for the participant, as well as lack of availabilities in swim classes, he says.
“The All In! Project aims to give swim teachers better knowledge, understanding and confidence to support those with a disability, whilst also subsidising the cost of the lesson for the participant,” says Dr Walkley.
Through the program, swim teachers will have access to numerous evidence-based online training modules. Staff will continue to receive support, with post-evaluation follow-ups.