A swim relay at Shepperton open water swimming lake has raised over £120,000 for a charity that provides swimming lessons for children with disabilities. BBC News reports that the fundraising event took place over the weekend of 9-10 June, with about 500 swimmers taking part in the challenge.

Some of the 92 teams that took part in the event kept up their swim for 24 hours, on an hourly rota that continued throughout the night. The atmosphere was described as friendly and supportive, with a focus on fun and inclusivity rather than competition. Members of the local community, a water safety team and medical crew were on standby.

There was a festival atmosphere as teammates and onlookers gathered around fire pits and shared stories as they cooked food. The event is in its third year, and is held by the charity Level Water, who provide swimming lessons for children with disabilities to enhance their physical and emotional wellbeing. 

Mark Fox, head of events and community at Level Water said: “The money raised today is going to go a long way to providing life-changing swimming lessons to children with disabilities across the UK, giving them the opportunity to learn to swim and fall in love with the water."

The charity’s swimming lessons cost £15 each, and over the past three years, events at Shepperton Lake have raised over £350,000, equating to about 24,000 lessons. The ethos of Level Water is to foster a lifelong love of swimming in children that will enrich their social, emotional, and physical development. 

Swimming is an invaluable life skill for many people, providing them with an excellent means of exercise, as well as stress relief, improved moods, and a ready-made community. Open water swimming in particular is noted for its friendly and inclusive nature, as brave souls who enter the water are encouraged and looked after by more experienced peers. 

For children with disabilities or special needs, learning to swim can be a transformative experience. Level Water explains that as the water takes your weight, it can enable physically disabled children to accomplish a level of freedom and independence that many of them cannot find anywhere else. 

The charity works in partnership with swim schools and pools around the country to train teachers and provide funding for high quality one to one swimming lessons for children with disabilities. It also holds regular fundraising events at lakes and rivers around the UK. Here’s a look at some of the main benefits of learning to swim for disabled children.

Swimming is a strong sensory experience

Many children with special needs require extra sensory input, and the weightless sensation of being in the water can feel very calming and reassuring. This can help children to grow in confidence and overcome any fears they may have about being in the water. In turn, the child may develop better self-esteem and physical independence. 

Improved muscle strength

Swimming is a non-weight bearing exercise, so it can help children develop muscle strength and flexibility that they might not be able to with other forms of physical exercise. The support of the water minimises stress on the muscles and joints and can ease pain and reduce the risk of injuries.

Better cognitive function

Learning to swim can provide a new mental challenge, as the child will need to follow instructions and focus as they carry out strokes and learn how to position themselves correctly in the water. This can improve their cognitive function, and also help them to gain confidence and a sense of independence as they master a new skill.

Improved mental and emotional health

Swimming is a very calming experience, and it can help to manage conditions such as stress and anxiety. The soothing effect of the water can release both mental and physical tension, and the repetitive nature of the movements can be therapeutic, allowing the mind and body to harmonise and process thoughts at a natural pace.

Children with special needs or disabilities are often excluded from sports, and this can deprive them of opportunities to make friends and interact with their peers, heightening feelings of isolation and difference. Swimming is a very inclusive sport that can involve the whole family or groups of peers.

This interaction can help children develop a sense of belonging and practise social skills that will be valuable in other areas of their lives. 

Sarah A