Mindfulness Dip: supporting new parents to come back to themselves

Danielle Campbell tells us about her Mindfulness Dip group, a community swim group that provides a creche, kit and transport to support parents to swim outdoors and return to that lost part of themselves.

Every Thursday, new parents and people seeking support for their mental health, swim together at Wardie Bay near Leith, Scotland. Hosts Dr Bell’s Family Centre, a local community centre, provide a creche to take care of swimmers’ children while they dip plus transport, hot drinks and a generous bundle of kit to use during the sessions. We caught up with Danielle Campbell, Chief Executive at Dr Bell’s Family Centre about their Mindfulness Dip community. 

How and why did this Mindfulness Dip group start? What inspired its fruition?

During lockdown my mental health was really impacted and I wanted to try something which took me out of my comfort zone but also helped me to deal with the issues affecting my mental health. I started wild swimming at the end of January 2021 and then swam everyday in February 2021, sometimes double dipping!

I spoke with my team about how I was feeling, describing not only the mental benefits of outdoor swimming but also the physical benefits. By this point some of our services had resumed in person, albeit outdoors and I was chatting to some of the parents about my new found love of outdoor swimming. The comments from some of them were that it wasn’t for them or that it seemed to be aimed at the more affluent people who have all the gear.

I had started swimming with one of my colleagues during our lunch breaks and I just blurted out wouldn’t it be wonderful to do this with our parents. To create a safe space where they could experience the positive benefits of being outdoors, reconnecting with nature and just be them… not a parent, not mum/dad, but themselves. We could offer creche so that they knew that their child was being cared for in a safe and nourishing environment and we could provide the kit and transport so that there were no barriers to participation.

Then boom! The idea just became reality. Our fantastic fundraiser wrote a funding application for a pilot session which took place in May 2021, we recruited parents easily and some of those mums still dip with us weekly.

We have been fortunate enough to receive funding for our dip to continue until now and our fundraiser continues to look at future opportunities for us to grow and develop.

Each participant receives a kit at the start of the term, including: neoprene gloves and socks, a towel, a changing poncho, a branded bobble hat, flask for hot drink, enamel mug and journal to note down their thoughts before and after each dip. This kit is their’s to use for the term and some even arrange swims out with the designated morning we have arranged.

Our mindfulness dipping group is its own little community and we have shared many tears, laughter and celebrations together. We have also had members who couldn’t swim face their fears and join their local swim centres adult swimming classes to build confidence to swim with our group and also go swimming with their little ones.

Please can you tell us about your previous dips. How do participants feel before and after they’ve been in the water?

Each dip varies and this could be down to the weather or the mood of the group. We’ve been roaring in laughter, jumping the waves after a storm; or hugging someone in tears who has had a tough morning; or even screaming our frustrations away into the ocean.

Our group is not led by us but by those who attend. Everyone, including the staff and volunteers, are very open about their mental health and struggles. We feel that this is the only way that this group will work and that our participants’ mental health will improve. This group isn’t just there to tick the boxes set out by funders, it is there to remove barriers to participation. 

We have seen a variety of people attend: those who cannot swim, those with a fear of open water, those with really poor mental health and those who have felt lost since becoming a parent. Each one of those parents have reported the positive benefits of being a part of this community and outdoor swimming has really changed their lives.

We each talk about how our week has been before entering the water and at the end of our session after our shivery bites and being warmed by the fire, we each share one word which reflects how we feel after our dip. This is extremely powerful and thought provoking.

Are there still spaces available for your upcoming term? 

We are only able to offer limited creche spaces due to requirements set out by Care Inspectorate. These are full for this term but we do have spaces for parents who do not need childcare. To access the group you need to live in Leith, Edinburgh (EH6/7 postcode), be an expectant parent or have at least one child under the age of 5 living at home.

How does it feel to offer this service to parents? Why is it important?

We are very passionate about our mindfulness dipping group and the positive impact that we have seen for our parents. We know how difficult it can be becoming a parent and that loss of yourself that some parents find. If we are just able to play a little part in helping parents to find themselves and their way then we have accomplished great things. Our families are at the forefront of everything that we do and we strive to offer the best services to them.

Wild swimming has great benefits and we know that it has saved so many people, encouraging them to see the light at the end of the tunnel. You are not alone, there is a community out there and the outdoor swimming community is magical. We are so lucky to be a part of it.

Lockdown and Covid-19 has taught us the importance of health and wellbeing as well as having a work life balance and outdoor swimming has really supported this.

Dr Bell’s Family Centre is a community centre in Leith, Edinburgh. Their weekly mindfulness dip – a guided swim with creche to take care of swimmers’ children – takes place every Thursday at Wardie Bay. The new term starts Thursday 12 January 2023, with spaces still available (although all creche spaces are currently filled). No previous wild swimming or swimming experience needed.

To be able to join you need to: Live in Leith (EH6/7); have at least one child under the age of five living at home or be an expectant parent; be willing to step out of your comfort zone and embrace the coldness of the Scottish water. Find out more by emailing or via their Facebook group or Instagram.

Thank you to Anna Deacon @wildswimmingstories for bringing this wonderful story to our attention and for providing the photos. Anna’s new book, The Ripple Effect (co-authored with Vicky Allan and published by Black & White Publishing), explores the many wild swimming communities that meet around the UK and comes out in October 2023.

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Jo is the Gear Editor for Outdoor Swimmer and also writes news and features for the website. A keen open water swimmer and long-distance walker, she loves seeking out lakes and lidos close to her home in the Mendip Hills, Somerset. She is the author of The Slow Traveller, editor and founder of independent magazine, Ernest, and has previously tested outdoor clothing and kit for BBC Countryfile Magazine, BBC Focus and Ernest Journal.