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Orca Community Blog

Open Minds Active; Organization that promotes mental health and wellbeing;

Orca

November 2, 2021

USING OPEN WATER AS A TOOL TO HEAL SOME OF SOCIETY’S MOST MARGINALISED GROUPS

OPEN MINDS ACTIVE  

For many the ocean is a place of healing but for some it is place that evokes trauma.
Open Minds Active is a Bristol based social impact organisation whose aim is to promote positive mental health and wellbeing for all through access to the natural environment. We are currently working with organisations in Bristol who support refugees who have come to the UK, some via a dangerous, life-threatening journey across the sea.

Wild swimming is one of our core social prescribing programmes that uses open water to promote healing, reduce anxiety and depression and build community and connection among our participants. We specialise in engaging marginalised groups to access outdoor activities and tackle the health inequalities that exist within society. A key part of our work addresses the barriers in accessing open water swimming, such as not being able to swim or trauma that being in water may trigger for some.

Learning to swim is not only important for our mental and physical wellbeing but is also a vital life skill. Swimming, particularly outdoors, provides us with opportunities to experience beautiful blue spaces and connect with the natural world. All children growing up in the UK learn how to swim as part of their school curriculum, but for many who have come to the UK as adults, have missed out on this opportunity. This, together with a raft of other barriers, signifies a worrying number of adults who are unable to swim, particularly among black and ethnic minority communities. National statistics show that 95% of black adults in England do not swim.* At Open Minds Active we recognise the importance of promoting diversity within swimming. For women of colour the barriers are even more challenging and complex. In 2020 we set up a programme to encourage adult women of colour to learn to swim. We offer learn to swim programmes in a private, fun and welcoming environment. So far we have taught over 40 women to swim. At least 10 of those women are now regularly accessing open water swimming and we have over 60 currently on our waiting list.

Next month Open Minds Active are extending the learn to swim sessions to welcome refugees. We have a small group of women starting our programme where we will gradually build confidence and trust, beginning the process of using water to heal trauma and learn valuable life skills. These resilient women are inspirational, as despite their negative experiences of water they are determined to swim and become role models to inspire others in their community to do the same. With your help we would like to expand this programme to reach more women across these programmes as well as develop a peer mentoring scheme that will encourage new swimmers to access wild swimming in a safe and inclusive environment. Our intention is to train up some of the women who access our programmes to become swim teachers, coaches and lifeguards to enable others to access the freedoms that swimming affords.

*Black Swimming Association, 2020

ABOUT OPEN MINDS ACTIVE

Open Minds Active is a Bristol social impact organisation that promotes positive mental health and wellbeing through wild swimming and the outdoors by nurturing a deeper human connection with nature. Web, Facebook and Instagram @openmindsactive

ABOUT MAGGY BLAGROVE

Maggy Blagrove is the Director and Founder of Open Minds Active a Bristol based social impact organisation whose mission is to promote positive mental and physical wellbeing for all through wild swimming and the great outdoors. Alongside a Masters in International Development, Maggy is a qualified teacher, open water swimming coach, swim teacher, beach lifeguard and netball coach. With over 20 years’ experience of working in sport and communities she has developed various international and national projects. She has led programmes in the Middle East and Africa using sport to build resilience, and also in the UK using sport as a tool to engage disadvantaged youth and marginalised communities.