Eastleigh Lakeside under new management

Management of open water swimming at Eastleigh lake, near Southampton, changed hands this winter with the new operators promising to improve provision for open water swimmers in the area.

Swimmers have enjoyed access to the water in Lakeside Country Park, Eastleigh, for the past three years but the previous operators decided at the end of last season that they wanted to concentrate on other projects. This left the popular venue lacking a management team.

Although only a few miles from the sea, the nearest managed inland swimming venue is around 40 miles away. As a number of triathlon clubs had been using Eastleigh, Triathlon England approached Steve Cooke and Kelly Wickens, who both have voluntary roles within the sport, to ask if they could put together a consortium of local clubs to take over operations.

“We found a lot of enthusiasm for the project when we started asking around,” says Steve, “but it was much harder to get people to commit to actually running the venue, so in the end we decided to do it ourselves.”

It wasn’t a decision either Steve or Kelly took lightly. Both have jobs, families and their own training commitments already, so taking on another project was daunting.

“If you’d have asked me in March if I’d have been running an open water swimming venue in May I would have laughed,” says Steve. “But now look at us!”

Howl Cover Shot

It’s been a steep learning curve but Steve says they’ve had great support from friends and friends of friends. “One person printed fliers for us and another designed a computer system to track who’s in the water. From our side, we’ve had to sort out rental of the lake from the council, put insurance in place and make sure the water is regularly tested – and the quality is excellent, by the way.”

Last year around 550 swimmers used the lake and Steve hopes to increase that this year through a range of initiatives such as frequent aquathons, parent and child swimming sessions and various courses and workshops for everyone from beginners to those looking to hone their racing skills.

“It’s really about building a community,” says Steve. “We don’t just want people to swim and go home. We’d like them to stay and chat and have a tea or coffee. Or, if that’s too leisurely, we’ve set up a turbo zone so triathletes can practice transitions onto their bikes before setting off on a run through the park. On our courses, we don’t just talk about racing skills but also wider open water skills such as how to do your own risk assessment for swimming in rivers or the sea so that if groups want to form and go off exploring, they can do so safely.”

In its two weeks since opening, Eastleigh has already had more than 200 swimmers in the water, despite the cool start to the season.

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I created Outdoor Swimmer in 2011 (initially as H2Open Magazine) as an outlet for my passion for swimming outdoors. I've been a swimmer and outdoor swimmer for as long as I remember. Swimming has made a huge difference to my life and I want to share its joys and benefits with as many people as possible. I am also the author of Swim Wild & Free: A Practical Guide to Swimming Outdoors 365 a Year and I provide one-to-one support to swimmers through Swim Mentoring.