Back in the swim!

No matter what your fitness level, swimming is a great way to get fit and build strength. Swimming uses all the muscles in the body so whether you swim a gentle breaststroke or hammer butterfly, you will get a full body workout. As well as burning calories, it’s great for general wellbeing; it de-stresses and relaxes. It also lowers the risk of disease – swimming just 30 minutes a week can help to guard against heart disease, stroke and type 2 diabetes. But what if just getting yourself in to the swimming pool is a problem? What if you have sight loss? Some of Sight Life’s members recently got back in the swim.

Matt Simmons, General Manager at Fairwater and Western Leisure centres, recently joined one of Sight Life’s telephone groups to talk about sport and leisure provision for people with disabilities in the city. Some of the leisure centres in Cardiff are re-opening, though with some special conditions in place. Changing rooms and showers will be limited, so everyone who attends a swim session has to come ‘pool ready’ with their swimming gear on under their clothes and having showered at home. Due to coronavirus, swimming pools will have:

  • No more than 10 swimmers in each lane of a 25-metre pool.
  • Double-width lanes so you can keep to a safe distance.
  • Chlorine disinfectant in the water management systems, which complies with the government’s regulations and is proven to disinfect pathogens, including viruses such as COVID-19.

Matt told the group that people can bring a guide with them without booking the guide in and there was no need to alert the venue to the guide’s attendance. The guide also goes for free. The centres never book to capacity so there is some leeway for guides/assistants.

Jane McCann (a swimmer in the 1984 Paralympic Games) was invited to try out lane swimming at Fairwater Leisure Centre. Jane jumped at the chance to get back in the water. This is what she had to say about her experience:

“Kat, the Assistant Manager, was so helpful. She offered to rope off a lane for me if I needed it. I decided to try sharing a lane to start with to see how I got on. It worked fine. The lanes are so wide that there is loads of space. I think next time I need to go in the fast lane as it is easier for others to overtake me than vice versa, and it is probably worth warning others in the lane that they need to keep out of my way at the end of the pool as I won’t see them, but apart from that it was fantastic. The system worked really well and Kat and Justin were great at showing me the ropes. I will feel very confident going again without relying on Kat. I thought there was loads of space and I was not sharing with many people, but Justin said there were even quieter times which it would be great if I could have a chat with someone about.”

After listening to Matt, Julie, another of our members, decided to try swimming in Fairwater. The local pool where she usually swims is not open yet. She was nervous about going somewhere new where she does not know the staff or the layout, but Matt’s chat gave her the confidence to try. Sharon (on the left) and Julie (on the right) on a side by side bike

Julie has Rheumatoid Arthritis which causes her a lot of pain. Swimming is particularly good for people with rheumatoid arthritis since the water supports the body, limiting the amount of stress on the joints. Before lockdown, Julie swam regularly and when she heard that Fairwater Leisure Centre was reopening and would be a good experience, she was really excited to get back in the water. Julie used to try using the steps to get in and out of the pool, but this was becoming too difficult and painful so, with some reservations, she started using the hoist. Julie was thrilled to be back in the water. She said:

“It was absolutely fantastic. They were brilliant. They made sure I was safe all the way through and let me use the short cuts to save me walking all the way round. They also made sure my taxi was there before I went out.

I was first in the building. Kat let me in before the other swimmers to show me the way and make sure I had space to change. The hoist worked really well too and the others in the pool were lovely and so helpful. My face was one big smile.

It made my day when I saw a gentleman I used to swim with in Ely. I was worried they would all think I had given up, but I’ve not given up by a long way. I can’t afford to give up. I’m not in as much pain as I was yesterday so it’s working already.”

Jane emailed Matt to thank him for attending the telephone group, and for giving our members the confidence to return to the water. Here’s Matt’s reply:

“Hi Jane,

Thank you so much for the feedback.

It’s so good to hear that you had a positive visit with us and you have the confidence to come again.

I will of course feedback to the team and we look forward to having you back again. It’s so good to hear and that the leisure centres are once again making an impact in the community.

Please feel free to contact me in the future,

Speak soon


Andrea has had a similarly positive experience swimming in the Star Hub Covid Secure system. This is what she had to say about her experience:

“I am totally blind and have significant hearing loss too. Without my hearing aids, I can hear nothing at all really. Before lockdown, I had finally plucked up my courage to go swimming on my own and the staff at the Star Hub were really helpful. Picture of Andrea

Then lockdown happened and I was really worried about how things would work with the new systems in place. I left it for a while, again having to pluck up my courage and was nearly put off going because the app is inaccessible – the voice on my phone cannot read the buttons on the first page as they are not labelled to explain what they are. I was really cross about this, but really wanted to swim, so asked someone to book a slot for me.

I went for the first time last Friday and it was outstanding. The whole experience was amazing from start to finish. It was actually even better than before lockdown.

I was greeted at the door and someone took me to where I needed to scan my card. Someone else then took me to show me where to leave my things while I swum. I explained that I need to swim along the wall up and down so I know I am going straight and so would not be able to follow the one-way system or avoid other people in the lane. I also explained that I would not be able to hear anything once I took my hearing aids out. They guided me to where I needed to get in, told everyone else in the lane that they would need to keep out of my way and tapped me on the hand when my time was up and it was time to get out. They took me to fetch my things, to the changing room and then waited for me to change before guiding me out again.

On top of that, when I received the confirmation email for my booking, it included a link to the website where we can book future visits. The website works brilliantly with my voice so I will be able to book independently in future using the website. I can’t praise the system and the staff enough. It was fantastic. I am going again tomorrow and really looking forward to it.”

Andrea has been several times since and on different days, so the all of the staff in the Hub are getting to know her and how to provide her with support.

For more information about swimming in Wales, including paraswimming, click here

For more information about swimming at Fairwater Leisure Centre, click here or contact the Leisure Centre on 029 2240 1200.

Swimming sessions are also open at Maindy Leisure Centre and at the Star Hub