As swimming pools are reopening and Lifesaving Clubs are recommencing their activities, we spoke to one Club, South Shields Volunteer Lifeguard Club to get an insight into how they have approached the post-COVID return and the challenges they have faced. Below what they did and words of advice for others embarking on reopening. 

What challenges have you faced?

When our pool sessions stopped on Monday 16 March 2020 never would we have imagined the hurdles and issues we were set to face over the year ahead. Two weeks into lockdown the centre we use for our pool sessions suffered a fire and we are still to receive a date on when we can resume our sessions there. Once we were able to in the summer of 2020 we started our beach sessions and were able to run weekly sessions, weather dependant until early September. We finally managed to secure a booking of an alternative pool and every time we have made plans to start we’ve either entered a higher tier or had a national lockdown.  In July 2020 we should have had our 12th annual summer camp which would have been the biggest yet with 3 clubs and 55 campers, we were devastated to postpone until 2021. Unfortunately, this year’s camp is unable to go ahead due to the uncertainty’s around restrictions. 

What changes have you had to make to reopen the club?

We decided early on that we would continue our sessions over Zoom and focus on the theory and different awards that we usually don’t have much time to complete during our usual sessions. For our beach sessions a lot of changes were brought in ensuring all of our trainers and leaders have specific jobs at the sessions from allowing access to the beach base, signing in and temperature checks, and everything in between. The sessions have also had to be adapted, so the members are in bubbles and socially distant.

If you look back on reopening the club what one thing would you have done differently?

We are lucky in the sense that our sessions have never really stopped we have evolved to the situation and adapted different techniques to keep the club going. I don’t think we would have done anything differently, we’ve worked hard to work with what we have and we have tried to do our best for our members.

How did you keep members engaged during closures?

At first, members were very engaged in the online Zoom sessions as it was new and different. Club numbers remained high from our senior section to our beach sessions when they were possible. When we first entered lockdown in April 2020 we decided to get involved in the TikTok toilet roll challenge which was suggested by one of our club members who now lives in Bondi. Our leaders and Ambassadors got involved and then it spiralled into a second video. We invited North Sea Volunteer Lifeguard Club and Billingham Forum LSC to get involved and a group video was created. We also held quiz nights inviting NSVL and BFLSC to join in on the fun. For Halloween, we did a vegetable carving competition on Zoom with a family quiz. 

In May last year, we organised a Young Leaders qualification that was held over Zoom and as part of their qualification, they ran an online rookie festival to replace our festival that should have taken place at the beach in June for the end of Drowning Prevention Week. We have also completed First Aid at Work,  Paediatric First Aid, and AED courses for our members and their parents. 

In September 2020 we launched our Leadership Academy focusing on our members aged 16 years and over. The hope of this is to keep our older teenagers involved and develop them into our future leaders and to retain members going forward. The young men we have on the program have relished the new opportunities given to them and it is an absolute delight to welcome their skills and qualities to our team. The next group are already waiting to join in and get involved in the running of the sessions and the club.

The challenge has really been since September 2020 until March 2021. Numbers have dropped significantly as our members were also facing online lessons from school.  We have had a number of guest speakers come onto our sessions including Tommy Richardson from Tyne and Wear Fire and Rescue Service and Dave Elliot who provides safety cover at events such as the Great North Swim. Emily Henderson also ran a session live from Bondi Beach explaining how she became a lifesaver on Bondi Beach. Thankfully we have seen a significant increase in numbers since restarting our beach sessions in April and we are hopeful once the pool reopens we will see numbers increase again. 

Tell us a little bit about the positive reaction of members when they finally got back to beach sessions?

Our members are thrilled to be back and couldn’t wait to get back into the sea. It was fantastic to see so many members back at beach and enjoying learning new skills. Our leaders have been looking forward to being able to reunite as well. Pool sessions are due to start again in a different temporary venue at the end of April 2021. 

Tell us about your own personal reaction to the news the club could reopen

I am delighted that face to face sessions can resume. This year we are celebrating our 60th anniversary and probably our biggest fight yet to survive. All of our leaders and members were excited to be able to come back together and see each other again and that was evident at our first session back.

Now that restrictions have lifted and hopefully will lift further it now means that we can focus on our celebrations for our 60th. In May we are launching our 60 miles in 60 days for 60 years. We are encouraging members both past and present to get involved and raise £60 per household. The hope is that we can all completed 60 miles over the 60 days whether that be swimming, walking, running or cycling and on the 60th day to join as one group and complete the last mile together as a team. 

I’ve been in the club since I was born and it is a major part of my life as well as all of us that are involved. I don’t think you can underestimate the importance of the social aspect of the club and the affect it can have on you. Our leaders are brilliant and without them our club wouldn’t be the success it is, I can’t thank them enough. We believe our club is a like a family and its brilliant being back together like the good old folks of Shields.