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23 Jun 2023 | 17:17

Swim England recently unveiled its vision for the next 10 years with the launch of its Access Aquatics strategy which aims to increase accessibility and inclusion in the sport, and help policy-makers capitalise on the considerable health and wellbeing benefits of swimming to society and the economy - as championed by the Coalition's #OpenGoal framework. Here we speak to Philip Brownlie, Swim England's Head of Public Affairs.

Hi Phil, thanks for speaking to the Coalition. Can you provide us with a brief overview of the new Access Aquatics strategy? 

Access Aquatics sets out our key priorities for the next decade as we aim to champion a healthier and more successful nation through swimming. It recognises the challenges facing the sector which is threatening one of the nation’s greatest assets and how we plan to work with our partners to tackle inequalities, remove the barriers to participation and ensure our sports and activities are ‘accessible, inclusive, safe and welcoming for everyone’.

Why does the strategy place a particular emphasis on inclusion and making swimming as accessible and welcoming as possible for diverse communities? 

The ability to swim is a life skill no-one should be without. We understand that there are additional barriers to participation among diverse ethnic communities which are reflected in stubborn inequalities in both participation and swimming attainment levels. We are determined to increase the proportion of under-represented groups to make aquatic activity more inclusive. We are committed to working with partners to better understand the needs of these particular groups and taking positive action – but it is a long journey and we are at the beginning. Ultimately, we want to ensure that people of all ages and from all backgrounds have great, safe experiences and are able to enjoy the many physical and mental health benefits being active in the water can bring.

What are the positive health and societal outcomes of swimming that align with the Coalition’s #OpenGoal framework? 

Swimming remains a national activity of choice for people’s health and wellbeing, leading to longer, happier, healthier lives. It has been proven that regular swimming participation can help to reduce long-term health conditions, saving the NHS and social care system more than £357million a year, while almost one-and-a-half million adults have said that swimming has significantly reduced their anxiety or depression. Alongside that, we know that each 25m pool can generate £7.2million in community savings.   

The #OpenGoal framework is an effective vehicle for showcasing the huge contribution of sports, including all our amazing aquatic sports and activities, to the success of the nation and is a natural fit with the aims and objectives of our Access Aquatics strategy.

Considering that inclusive approach, and the vital role of swimming to the health and wellbeing of so many people and their communities, why was it important that the Government supported at-risk leisure facilities and swimming pools in the Spring Budget? 

A key strategic priority in Access Aquatics is 'water'. This is because an essential ingredient for being active in the water is … water! Our guiding objective in our new strategy is to ensure the country has a network of sustainable pools that provide enough water space to support all aquatic activities. The sector has faced many challenges over the past three years and with an ageing supply of pools, almost three quarters of local authorities could face a shortage of swimming pools by the end of the decade. Long-term investment is therefore required to support the transition to a network of sustainable pools that are able to meet the needs of the country.

Since the Covid pandemic, leisure operators have been placed under further increasing pressures. Many didn’t reopen after the initial coronavirus lockdown and then rising energy bills posed another threat to the existence of facilities. The wave of support behind the #SaveOurPools campaign we launched during the pandemic and last year as the energy crisis exacerbated shows how loved and valued pools are to millions of people and the communities they serve. We welcomed the £63million Government investment earlier this year to help keep ‘vulnerable’ swimming pools afloat but we will continue to monitor the situation and it is important that funding now reaches pools as soon as possible . We’ll seek to work with the Government to put swimming pools on a sustainable long-term footing to support the health and wellbeing of the nation. 


#OpenGoal aims to build advocacy and investment for sport and physical activity-based interventions in our communities, as a way of delivering greater social return on investment for public expenditure in the future. What will your message be to policy-makers ahead of next year’s anticipated General Election? 

Our message is that investing in our pools and leisure centres is a no brainer on every level, a genuine ‘win-win-win’. We know every £1 spent on community sport and physical activity generates nearly £4 for the economy and society.

The UK Chief Medical Officer previously reported that: “If physical activity were a drug, we would refer to it as a miracle cure, due to the great many illnesses it can prevent and help treat.” With projections that ill health costs the UK economy £150bn a year – which has increased by 60% in the past six years – addressing this is now essential for any government. 

Swimming pools are ideally placed to help with this as the unique properties of the water make it an ideal location for many people with a range of health conditions who may struggle to be active on land. With pools accounting for up to 40% of a local authority’s direct carbon emissions, creating a network of more environmentally sustainable pools is also a crucial part of meeting the nation’s net zero environmental targets.

Read the Access Aquatics strategy here.