Open Minds Active: Four Inspiring Films Celebrating Diversity and Change in Open Water Swimming

Open Minds Active: Four Inspiring Films Celebrating Diversity and Change in Open Water Swimming

In the heart of Bristol, a remarkable organization named Open Minds Active is rewriting the narrative around diversity and swimming. It’s a story of breaking barriers, fostering community bonds, and creating change, one swimmer at a time.

Though swimming is a universal sport, it is entangled in a web of historical, practical, and cultural barriers, especially in the UK. The Black Swimming Association (BSA) has shed light on this issue of the exclusion of African, Caribbean, and Asian communities from the aquatic world which has lead to a profound lack of education in water safety and a prevailing negative perception of swimming.

The statistics paint a vivid picture: 95% of black adults and 80% of black children in England do not swim. The risk of drowning is disproportionately higher amongst minority ethnic communities, echoing the urgent need for intervention and inclusion.

Open Minds Active is an initiative founded by Maggy Blagrove and the community swim program by Wafa Suliman. Maggy, has extensive experience in sports development, and Wafa, a Muslim woman and former professional swimmer from Sudan, understand the intricate cultural nuances and barriers surrounding swimming.

Wafa’s shares, “This work is incredibly important. So many women in our community have never been given the opportunity to swim. The sessions are more than just swimming; we support each other and encourage generations of women to do something for themselves.”

The organization’s approach addresses local issues with local resources by local people. They initiated an extensive outreach program with underrepresented groups, particularly within the refugee and asylum seeker community in Bristol. The participants becoming peer mentors and advocates for others within the community.

The organization’s mission even goes beyond swimming pools and organizes open water swims which introduce women to local lakes around Bristol. This initiative, coupled with partnership working and collaboration with local lake owners, has secured spaces at West Country Water Park, promoting women-only spaces and building confidence and skills needed for open water.

Simon Harmer @TheAmputeeSwimmerUK shares his story with @OpenMindsActive about how wild swimming and the open water community that surrounds it has helped him build mental and physical resilience, following a life changing injury. As a double leg amputee he talks about accessibility of swimming and how swimming in the outdoors has contributed to his wellbeing.
Wafa shares her swim story about her competitive swimming career in her native Sudan and how on arriving to the UK with her family swimming helped her reconnect with herself and community. She talks about how outdoor swimming in the UK helped her meet new friends and led to her work with @OpenMindsActive which has enabled so many women to learn swimming. She talks about the importance of having a safe space where women can come together to learn a new skill, meet other women and build confidence and reduce social isolation.
Lildonia shares her learn to swim story, discussing the barriers to swimming for people of colour, the perceived stereotypes and reclaiming the narrative around her own personal journey and the joy of learning a new skill and accessing blue spaces.
Mehbooba shares her swim story, about how the water has helped her heal mentally and physically. She talks about the importance of people finding time for themselves to do activities like cold water swimming that support long term health. She talks about how swimming has helped her Fibromyalgia symptoms and the community of friends she has met with whom she swims all year round.

Maggie wrote on Facebook today:

Today is a day of hope, a day of reaching out, and a day of unity—it’s our fundraising day. We’re on a mission to keep the heart of our Social Prescribing Wild Swimming and Learn to Swim services beating, to keep the waves of change and empowerment flowing. But to do that, we need your support, your belief in our cause.

Our journey is at a crossroads. Our current funding is whispering its goodbyes in October, and though we are pouring our energy and spirit into finding new sources, running workshops, and courses, the path ahead is filled with uncertainties. We are not alone in this struggle; the times are challenging for everyone in the voluntary sector. But we’ve woven a tapestry of hope and resilience so far, and we believe in the sustainable model we’ve built and the positive ripples it’s creating in the realms of mental and physical health.

We are in need of more moments under the sun, more investments in the dreams we are cultivating. In the coming month, we’ll be sharing the echoes of our impact over the last year. We’ve walked alongside over 200 souls, some of whom have opened the chapters of their journeys with us through a series of heartfelt films called ‘Water Stories’, available on our website. These narratives are a testament to the transformative power of unity in blue spaces on individuals and communities.

So, we reach out to you today, with open hearts, to support us, to help us weave more stories of change. Our glow swim has already embraced the warmth of full support, a testament to the incredible open water swimming community and the team at West Country Water Park. Even a contribution of £5 can be a beacon of hope in continuing this valuable work. If donating is not within your means, a like and a share of this post can also be a whisper of support.

Donate here

Open Minds Active on Facebook