NEWS

Active Thames funds Bluetits Chill Swimmers

Active Thames has funded the Kent flock of Bluetits Chill Swimmers, a community of open water swimmers that unites people of all abilities and backgrounds who share a love of the sea

The Bluetits Chill Swimmers, a social swimming group based in Whitsable, was set up in 2020 after an increase in interest in open water swimming due to Covid-19 lockdowns. They are part of a wider global flock of Bluetits, which was founded in Pembrokeshire by Sian Richardson.

The Kent flock now has over 1,300 members. They meet daily – sometimes twice a day – and have no fees, no age limits and no expectations.

With interest in open water swimming at an all-time high, funding from Active Thames has ensured The Bluetits Chill Swimmers continue to thrive and expand, meaning more members can safely enjoy the numerous benefits of sea swimming for our health and wellbeing.


The mental health benefits of sea swimming

Imogen Tinkler set up The Bluetits in Whitstable to welcome everyone from all abilities and backgrounds and create a community of those who have a pure love of the sea. She often meets new members before the sessions to discuss their anxieties about going into the sea and to help them overcome their initial trepidation.

While a large majority of the group are aged between 40-60, some members are in their 20s while others are in their 80s. “The benefits of the swimming sessions are huge and it really builds confidence. You can see it every time they come back,” Imogen said.

The grant will allow The Bluetits to support members safely and expand a thriving community of like-minded individuals. For Imogen, the impact of The Bluetits community has been huge and forces her to put time aside for herself while juggling her own business and family life.


“I think when you strip down and you’ve got no makeup on, you’re just in your swimming costume or wetsuit, everyone is equal,” she said. “You build bonds very quickly and you’re doing something that is pushing your limits. If you’re going swimming in the snow, you’re going to remember that forever. You have to trust other people as anything could happen and everyone encourages each other and inspires each other. It’s amazing how quickly those friendships are formed.”

Removing barriers to open water swimming

Having lived in Whitstable for over 25 years, National Open Water Coaching Association (NOWCA) trained Julie Maver is very familiar with the tides and currents. Julie has provided a sea safety presentation to make sure the social swimmers, some of whom may have never swum in the sea before, are aware of the geography of the coastline, the currents and the structure of the water.

She has also developed tailored and inclusive beginner and intermediate swimming courses, under Kent-based charity Active Life, for those who want to increase their confidence with pool and open water swimming. “Affording people opportunities is the biggest thing you can do, and the more we do it, the more it’s going to become part of mainstream swimming,” Julie said.

One way Julie hopes to remove barriers is by further supporting social enterprise The Bluetits Chill Swimmers.

“I’ve always had a passion to get into the peripheral edge of swimmers. I’ve taught men and women recovering from a stroke, claustrophobia, mental anxieties, grief and those with mobility issues. Everyone should have the chance to get the same pleasure out of the water that I get, and at the minute they’ve got to jump through so many more hoops just to get to the swimming pool.”

Teaching the Bluetits Chill Swimmers how to swim in the sea safely

“You have to swim aware when you’re in the sea. You’ve got to take responsibility,” Julie said. “We forget being pool-trained how many visual clues there are: furniture, fittings, steps, lifeguards, signage. In the sea, it’s like swimming with a blindfold on, but the benefits are so huge that it is worth investing in and it’s worth doing it safely and properly.”

Julie, who was nominated as a finalist for the Physical Activity Hero Award at the UK Active Awards, agrees. “The sea is supportive and nurturing,” she says. “You exit the water, you’re cleaned, refreshed, reset and you’re ready to go out into the world. And it costs nothing. It’s available to everybody. It empowers men and women. The swimmers leave the sea drinking from the cup of confidence.”

Active Thames is a partnership programme in place to support the development of watersports on the tidal Thames and inland waterways in London, Kent and Essex.

With over 15,000 football pitches worth of blue space, the tidal Thames is a fantastic place to get active. There is also an extensive network of inland waterways, which provide even more space for people to enjoy, and perfect locations to gain the skills and confidence needed to take on the tidal river.