Q&A session with expert, Richard Wilson.
Richard Wilson has owned the Swimtime franchise for Lancashire since 2005. He was involved with teaching disabled children to swim even before this and his passion for making swimming available to all has steadily grown over almost 20 years. You can follow his story and tap into his expertise in this informative Q&A session.
Q: Hi Richard. So, how did you get started with Swimtime?
A: Hello! Well, I’ve been involved with swimming from a young age, at both Club and County level, before starting my career in the leisure industry in the 90’s.
I qualified as a Swim Teacher in 2000 and joined Swimtime in 2004, as a teacher, after the company had been recommended to me. I met the founding directors. Barry and Linda Price, and was invited to one of the first Swimtime teacher conferences. With the business rapidly expanding, there was lots of talk of franchising opportunities at the conference and I jumped at the chance to buy the Lancashire Franchise region in 2005 after graduating from university.
Q: Where did your interest in disability swimming lessons come from?
A: After becoming a qualified teacher, I taught swimming on a regular basis with our local council and community centre. Before I joined Swimtime, a friend asked me for help with her son, aged 4, who had Cerebral Palsy. They hadn’t been able to find any suitable lessons for him and had no idea where to turn for support.
I agreed to take on my friend’s son on a 1-to-1 basis to get him comfortable in the water, as most of his time was either spent in a wheelchair or in his bed. The day we got him into the pool his face lit up! The freedom of being in the water made a huge difference to him and, from then on, I knew I had to explore this area more.
Q: Amazing. So how did you take it to the next stage?
A: From there, I extended my teaching knowledge to cover disability swimming to further help my friend’s son. As time went on, with much patience and hard work, he was able to swim. The journey helped him in so many ways other than just gaining confidence in the water. Swimming helped build his core strength so he was able to hold his posture. His muscle development helped him straighten his body posture and improve his bowel movement.
Before he started swimming, his left side was extremely weak and his left shoulder dipped. Swimming helped improve strength in his shoulders and also brought them level. His confidence and communication improved too. Before he finished his lessons, he even completed a 400-metre swim!
Q: What’s your most important message for disabled people looking to start swimming?
Go for it! Swimming is for everyone. Disabilities should not stop you from accessing a pool. If you need support to get into the water, most pools have a hoist system and disabled changing facilities. If you’re not sure which pools might be accessible for you, get in touch with your local Swimtime office (www.swimtime.org) and we can help. Alternatively, just Google “disabled or SEN swimming” in your area.
Q: Any advice on gaining funding to support swimming lessons?
A: Absolutely! Depending on your disability, there may be charities that would provide funding for you and it’s worth contacting them. www.familyfund.org.uk are a great charity to start with. They’ve been able to help many of our disabled and SEN children access lessons with funding. www.whizz-kidz.org.uk is another great charity that specifically helps wheelchair-dependent children.
If you have a disabled child of school age with an EHCP (Education, Health and Care Plan), the school may get additional funding to provide your child with swimming lessons as part of their additional needs. In my area, Swimtime Lancashire currently provide school swimming lessons for children and young adults with a range of SEN, funded through their EHCP. These are held during the daytime in small groups or 1-to-1, depending on the needs of the individual. It may be worth asking your school or SENCO to get in touch with us at email@example.com as some schools are not aware of the additional services that Swimtime Lancashire offer.
If the school is not based in Lancashire, Swimtime can still help. We provide lessons nationally. Take a look at www.swimtime.org to find your nearest location. You could also check your local council website or www.scope.org.uk, which is a charity for disability and exercise. Another idea, if you have links with a company, is asking them if they have a social responsibility fund and if they’d consider funding your child’s swimming lessons.
Q: Does more need to be done for disabled swimmers?
A: Definitely! In the future, I’d like to see more access for disability swimming across the UK. With many leisure facilities closing due to lack of funding, it’s vital that we keep all swimming and leisure facilities accessible for all, especially those with additional needs. That’s something Swimtime is involved with. In fact, we’re currently developing teaching programmes at the Swimtime Training Academy so we can offer more courses with a focus on SEN and disability.
As well as that, we’re currently working closely with the National Deaf Children’s Society to upskill our teachers to be able to communicate more effectively with deaf, hard of hearing and non-verbal swimmers.
As well as suitably qualified teachers, we also need more pool space. If you have access to an underused pool or a pool that could benefit from the additional revenue of a disability lesson programme, please email us to discuss opportunities on a local or national level at firstname.lastname@example.org
Q: Thanks Richard. It’s been really interesting and you’ve provided so much useful information to help anyone interested in swimming lessons for children with disabilities.
A: Honestly, it’s been my pleasure!
Swimtime is currently looking for a partner to sponsor children’s disability lessons so we can offer them free to those who need them. If you could help with this, please send an email to email@example.com