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Devon Vicar plans 40 sea swims for Lent to raise money for homeless

Devon Vicar, Father Gary Deighton is planning to do 40 sea swims for Lent, despite not liking cold water. His first swim takes place tomorrow (2 March), on Ash Wednesday, after his traditional service at St George’s Church in Goodrington.

“The idea came to me after a fundraising Boxing Day swim I did with members of my church which raised £1500 for a local foodbank,” says Father Gary. “I don’t like cold water or getting in the sea, and I don’t like not knowing what is underneath me, but when you live so close to the sea you have to take advantage of it!”

Father Gary will be raising money for YMCA Homeless Project, Nightstop, which helps provide emergency overnight accommodation for homeless people. “I thought it would be good to put myself out of my comfort zone, in the same way that the young people Nightstop is trying to help are out of their comfort zone living on the streets,” he says.

On Ash Wednesday Father Gary will be joined in the water by Maria Goodwin, the CEO of YMCA South Devon and Ben Nelson-Smith, the headteacher of Collaton St Mary Church of England Primary School. In 2017 the Paignton priest slept rough for the whole of Lent, raising £6000 for homeless charities. Nightstop launched in Torbay in December 2021 and involves volunteer hosts opening their homes to young people for one or two nights’ emergency accommodation. “Until Nightstop launched, there was no bespoke emergency system for young people in Torbay, and they were forced either into B&B’s or sofa surfing on friend’s couches,” says Maria. “Nightstop aims to get the young people (aged between 16 and 25 years) into a safe caring environment, in the homes of trained volunteers. If you feel you can provide that help, please get in touch with us.”

Part of the purpose of the swims is to raise awareness of the scheme. “We want to be able to help all young people in their hour of need, and for that we rely on the generosity and big hearts of our hosts. We just need more of them,” says Father Gary, who has been preparing for this year’s Lenten challenge by taking lots of cold showers. The Torbay MP Kevin Foster and members of the Diocese of Exeter Mission and Ministry team are due to join him in April and Father Gary said he hoped others might also take the plunge to show support.

“I will be looking to vicars in the area as well as community leaders to come and join me. There is only one rule – no wetsuits.”

Boxing Day Swim

Father Gary’s Boxing Day swim, when inspiration struck