Together Fund investment helping to reduce barriers to participation in Swimming

by Ruth Glanvill sports in community

North Somerset British Bangladeshi Association (NSBBA) have been using funding awarded through the Sport England Together Fund to deliver women only swimming sessions in Weston-Super-Mare, North Somerset.

The NSBBA is a member led community group for a North Somerset’s sizable Bangladeshi and Muslim community, with concentrations in Weston-Super-Mare, Clevedon and Portishead.

Swimming is a popular activity amongst members of the Bangladeshi/Muslim community, a recent polling of community members (undertaken by the NSBBA) identified  85 Bangladeshi women interested in swimming as a form of exercise or social activity, many of whom at the time were not ‘physically active’. The survey also highlighted significant barriers to accessing swimming, in particular cultural, and religious practices and beliefs that serve to limit opportunities for Bangladeshi and Muslim women to participate in swimming due to the lack of ‘women only’ sessions in local pools or sports centres.

Encouraged by Voluntary Action North Somerset (VANS) the NSBBA approached the local leisure centre in Weston-Super-Mare and have secured access to the pool for a weekly women-only swimming session on a trial basis to test demand and the ability of the centre to support this. A reduced fee was negotiated, and funding was identified to run the trial over three weeks in June 2022.

Over half (45) of the those who expressed an interest attended a trial session. The centre was able to provide all female staffing, ensure the pool was vacated prior to the booked session, install temporary modesty screens to ensure privacy and ensure that Muslim culture and customs could be respected. In addition, an offer of swimming lessons for this group, delivered by female swimming instructors, has been forthcoming.

Together Fund has supported NSBBA to build on the trial and establish regular weekly women only swimming sessions, initially for the Bangladeshi group of women with the expectation that this will be opened-up to include the wider female Muslim community. Swimming lessons will also be offered to widen and encourage participation. The Chair of NSBBA said there are regularly 45 to 50 women regularly attending sessions with unanimously positive feedback, some of which is highlighted in the quotes below:

“I am a member of The North Somerset Bangladeshi Association and I’m very thankful to VANS, Wesport and Sports England for giving us the chance for there to be swimming for Muslim women as we are very far away from the majority of the Asian community like London. This is a great opportunity for us to do this type of activity where we are very few in numbers. Therefore, once again, we would like to thank all the organisations for helping us."

“North Somerset Bangladeshi Association helped me to get in touch with other Bangladeshi families and Asian families. They also help me with settling in Weston Super Mare and signposted me to different services. Now I am an active member of the association and participating in many charitable, religious and cultural events."

"One of the main activity we most like is Muslim women swimming. As a Muslim women we cannot take any activity like swimming in a open public area. Therefore, we are very grateful to Vans, Wesport and sports England for helping us to achieving this opportunity. Thank you to all organisations for arranging this project."

Wesport are working with key partners across the West of England to ensure that female only swim sessions are delivered in a way that truly ensures women feel safe and supported to access provision.

Recent Swim England survey results show a disparity between different ethnicities and the ability to swim:

  • There is a clear disparity of swimming abilities when analysing by ethnicity. 14% of White Communities cannot swim 25m, in comparison to 49% of ethnically diverse communities.
  • This disparity is further exemplified by gender differences, with females of all ethnicities being less likely to be able to swim 25m.

Swim England's campaign 'England Swims' aim is to make water-based activity as accessible and inclusive for everyone. Swim England has gathered the views and experiences from ethnically diverse communities in a bid to break down long standing barriers to participation. You can read more about this campaign and access the key findings from the survey here.

other articles you might like

View all posts

about the author

Ruth Glanvill

Project Manager

Community Sport

T: 0117 328 6255