Running an outdoor swimming venue

Four months ago I was training for the Bantham Swoosh 6k swim with my colleague and friend, Alice. Things were going ok – Alice was experienced in long-distance swimming, having done the Dart 10k twice, but I was a complete novice to the concept. When I’d started training we discovered that I wasn’t a natural swimmer, all my years of running had meant that what I thought was me kicking neatly in the water was actually my legs behaving as though they were running, causing me to sink at worst and be slow at best. But thanks to Alice’s excellent coaching and advice, by June we were pretty on track with our training schedule and my legs were mostly behaving themselves. We’d been travelling to Tooting Bec Lido most Sunday mornings for our long training swims, but public transport on Sunday mornings pre-6am is pretty dire, which made the visit a five hour round trip. It’s a fantastic venue but we fancied a break from 4:30am starts. So one weekend we decided to give the London Royal Docks Open Water Swimming venue a try.

We had no idea what to expect, but as soon as we turned up we fell in love with the venue. The massive expanse of water that appeared in front of us as we rounded the corner from the Emirates Airline was both daunting and exhilarating to look at. The sun was shining and we could see a crowd of swimmers getting changed on the grass banks – all very low key but that’s part of the appeal with outdoor swimming.

Alice got a bit nervous once we were in the water, it is after all a massive body of water to be swimming in, so rather than launching straight into training mode we enjoyed bobbing around for a bit; switching between breastroke and front crawl as we became accustomed to the water. Now and then we floated on our backs and watched as planes passed overhead, and generally revelled in the odd sensation of being in London but having a huge amount of space around us. There were no crowds to contend with – we could just stop and enjoy the view.

When we got out we were pretty hyped up and got chatting to Dom, who was helping out in front of house and Rick the owner of LRDOWS and NOWCA. We weren’t sure at this point how the docks were run, and thought it might be a team of volunteers so asked whether we could sign up to help – it’s actually run by a small but dedicated paid team. Rick saw our enthusiasm for the venue and asked us if we’d like to come back and chat about joining the team. We left not believing our luck; both Alice and I were working in graphic design at the time, but were in the process of leaving our jobs because we hated being tied to a desk for eight hours a day, and were desperate to ear our living in a more active way. Sometimes fate just seems to intervene – coming to LRDOWS and meeting Rick seemed like one of those moments.

We’ve been working at the docks for a couple of months now, and every shift reaffirms my love for both the venue and the people that visit. Logistically, there’s quite a lot that goes on behind the scenes: we have to make sure safety wristbands are processed, ensure that the boat we use as an office is in working order and offer support to people who get in touch with questions. My favourite part is undoubtedly speaking to swimmers when they’ve just gotten out of the water though – the smiles and stories are far more rewarding than I could have hoped to get out of a job six months ago.

Alice, Rick and I recently decided to revive a Victorian swimming club together. The London Swimming Club (LSC) will compliment the venue and allow us to add an extra level of support for swimmers. Over a century ago, the club’s original founders created an inclusive community of swimmers who seamlessly combined the art of swimming with core moralistic purpose. The revival of the club aims to pick up where they left off; promoting the positive effects of swimming on both the body and mind and most importantly to have fun whilst doing it.

© 2019 London Royal Docks OWS
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