Jason West tells the story of how an old swimmer’s generosity led to the formation of a vibrant swimming community
It all started quite a few years ago when I realised I prefer the sea to a pool, especially when it’s cold, and a teacher from my sons’ school suggested I go swimming with an informal group at Greenhill Beach in Weymouth. There is a set of beach huts along the beach, one of which belongs to a gentleman by the name of Rod. Somewhat embarrassingly, but perhaps also tellingly, I had to ask someone what Rod’s surname is for this article. His full name is actually Rodney Roy but for years I have only known him as Rod, as have many other swimmers who use the beach.
Rod, who is now 79, generously allows other swimmers to make use of his hut so we have somewhere to leave our clothes when we swim. He even has a curtained off area inside where women can change. At 5pm on Fridays and 9:30am on Sundays, swimmers turn up at Rod’s Hut. We go for a swim together across the bay and then return to the hut to share a hot chocolate. We started to call ourselves Rod’s Hut Swimming Club, although we never had any formal club structure. We’re just a bunch of people who enjoy swimming in the sea. We keep an eye out for each other in the water and then gather in Rod’s hut to warm up and chat. Rod tells stories about how he used to play water polo near the entrance to the harbour in the 1940s and 50s. When I did a Channel relay in 2014, we named the team in Rod’s honour.
Behind Rod’s hut there is a second row of huts with balconies, some of which were formerly used by the beach lifeguards. In 2012, the council closed down these huts as it feared the balconies wouldn’t be strong enough to hold the massive influx of people they expected for the Olympics. The masses never arrived but the huts remained shut.
So then I thought: “Why can’t we use them?”
There are quite a few of us who swim all year round at Greenhill Beach and Rod’s hut isn’t always open so people often leave stuff on the beach while they swim – and that stuff sometimes goes missing. Even if you don’t lose your things, worrying about your clothes while you’re in the water makes the swim less enjoyable. What if swimmers could have somewhere secure where they could leave their things, any day of the year?
I took my idea of letting swimmers use the old beach huts to the local council. The top brass were supportive and got someone to show us around, but three hours later the manager sent me a long email listing all the reasons why it couldn’t happen.
Needless to say, I had a counter- argument to every point the council put forward. I started a petition asking people if they would be prepared to pay a £5 per month membership fee for shared use of the huts. Within a month I had 300 signatures. After that I decided I wasn’t going to give up and eventually the council conceded. In fact, I think the process we’ve been through has encouraged the council to think differently about how it works with the community.
We held an opening ceremony on 26 November at which Rod was a VIP guest along with Weymouth’s own former King of the Channel Mervyn Sharp.
Visitors to Weymouth are also able to use the facilities at the huts if they sign up for short-term membership