Published: 19 December 2022

How poignant that as we wrap up for this cold spell, wrap up presents that we are wrapping up the end of another year. In many ways the Society has much to be proud of with membership growing, new clubs starting and our awards, qualifications, consultancy, and shop now back to levels not seen until before the pandemic. Drowning Prevention Week was our biggest ever, our new animated video had over 2 million views, and we are pushing a new Education Bill, written by our Patron, Lord Storey to include water safety lessons within the curriculum so that every child can learn about enjoying water safely.

We also welcome the Society’s first female President, Deborah Hunt. This is especially important as we move towards a more inclusive and diverse Society. One where we break down barriers of participation so that everyone can get involved in lifesaving and lifeguarding. In January we will be recruiting a member of staff to take up this important piece of work as we embed FREDIE (Fairness, Respect, Equality, Diversity, Inclusion and Engagement) within our culture, and I hope all involved in our work will also embrace this part of our journey.

However, this year has also been one of huge challenges. The cost-of-living crisis and energy prices are affecting all of our partners involved in swimming pools. I was challenged recently about what RLSS UK is doing to help our clubs and branches access pool time sessions that are affordable. Whilst we may not publicise every conversation, I can assure you that we have been exerting our influence wherever possible. During the year we have contacted every single sitting MP and I have met with a number of ministers from both parties. Our influence sits at the heart of our government buildings and we are immensely lucky to have the support of Lord Storey. His passion for water safety and education is incredible and he is a wonderful advocate for the Society. Our Commercial Director, Jo Talbot, also has a fantastic relationship with all the pool operators in the UK and we are both in constant conversations about how we can support them to keep pools open and how they can support our lifesaving work.

But let’s be absolutely clear, this is a challenge bigger than all of us and so we must unite and bring our combined efforts to bear, and this will be a key theme at a meeting I am attending in the new year. Every interested party must come together and, with public support, we expect a positive reaction.

More recently we have seen the tragic deaths of four young boys who fell into an icy lake at Babbs Mill Park, near Solihull. Despite our excellent resources on water safety in the winter, we are reliant on parents, children, swimming instructors, etc seeking out this vital information and sharing it. We know that this isn’t enough, and it is why we have actively campaigned for this type of life saving advice to be taught to all children within schools. My colleague, Charity Director Lee Heard, has been very vocal in the media on this topic recently and we hope that some good may come from this tragedy. Finally, we hope that people will realise that if we are truly going to tackle the scourge of drowning in young people then we must teach EVERY child these vital lessons. Until then, when the hot summer weather appears, or the lakes freeze over again we must prepare ourselves to deal with more disasters.

Bluntly, I say ‘THIS ISN'T GOOD ENOUGH’.

So, my final message is that next year we must work together like never before, in isolation we can be divided and easier to ignore. Yet collectively we speak for millions of people, millions who every day enjoy being in, on and near water. We need to speak for those that gain physical and mental strength from swimming, for all our clubs, branches and for sport. We also need to speak for the hundreds of thousands of people who are employed in swimming and aquatic activities and whose lives will be affected by every pool closure.

2023 is the time to write to your local politician, sign a petition or support a local or a national demo.

2023 should be the time when we unite because if we don’t, we will let decisions pass us by and then we will have to deal with the consequences.

We have much work ahead so before then I wish you a happy and joyful Christmas. It is a time to spend with your family and a time to relax.

Thank you for all your support in 2022.