Culture Editor Ilina Jha reports on women from ethnic minority backgrounds being trained as lifeguards to inspire female swimmers
A group of women from ethnic minority backgrounds in one of the most deprived areas of Coventry have trained as lifeguards to inspire local women and girls to swim. They qualified on a scheme funded by Sport England to achieve the Royal Life Saving Society UK’s (RLSS UK) National Pool Lifeguard Qualification (NPLQ) – the UK and Ireland’s most popular and respected lifeguarding course.
Coventry-based charity Positive Youth Foundation empowers local women and girls, particularly from ethnic minority backgrounds, in Foleshill, one of the city’s most deprived areas. The charity, in collaboration with CV Life, addressed the community’s request for culturally appropriate women-only swimming sessions at Centre AT7. However, due to a national shortage of lifeguards, ensuring a female lifeguard’s presence at all times proved challenging, hindering some women from attending when a male lifeguard was on duty.
To solve this problem, local women decided to train as NPLQ lifeguards with RLSS UK. Facilitated by the Go Foleshill project (delivered by the Positive Youth Foundation, Coventry City Council, CV Life, and other local partners) and held at Centre AT7, the training was tailored to respect and accommodate the cultural sensitivities of the participants: there was a female tutor and assessor, no males were present in the pool during training sessions, and time was allotted for daily prayers.
RLSS UK assessor Julie Thomas praised the cohort, saying, ‘This is one of the best groups I have ever assessed. The ladies seamlessly integrated into the centre, progressing from a learn-to-swim program to the NPLQ. They overcame barriers like gender segregation, praying during assessments, and wore appropriate swim attire. The supportive community atmosphere with cheers, tears, and hugs was truly remarkable.’
In addition to the lifeguard training, the Go Foleshill project also saw 11 women qualify as swimming instructors. Nikki Miles, programmes manager at Positive Youth Foundation, stated: ‘Together, these women have become role models for their community, inspiring more women and girls to engage in swimming and aquatic activities. The initiative led to an increase in the participation of women and girls in swimming lessons and recreational swimming sessions. And because women are teaching swimming and working as lifeguards, more young women are signing up to learn to swim.’ CV Life has gone on to introduce three new women-only swimming sessions, which are lifeguarded by the newly trained Foleshill women, and is looking to add more if new lifeguards can be trained.
BBC Radio Leicester presenter Summaya Mughal, in her podcast ‘Brown Gal Can’t Swim’, shared her personal journey of learning to swim while exploring why many South Asian women are hesitant to swim. Speaking at the recent RLSS UK conference, Mughal emphasised the need to encourage everyone to swim and become lifeguards. She acknowledged the unique challenges faced by communities like hers but stressed that engagement with these communities could overcome these challenges. Mughal highlighted the importance of visibility, stating, ‘It’s about making these activities more visible so that people see others who look like them working as lifeguards and swimming teachers.’ Her podcast has inspired women across the country to take up swimming, demonstrating its positive impact.
Read more News stories here: