Birds get Big Lottery Grant

This week at Seabirds HQ we have received the wonderful news that we will receive a lottery grant. The grant will fund a 6 week course focusing on women’s confidence in the water. It is aimed at women who wish to improve their physical, emotional and mental well being.  There are lots of courses locally run to help people transition from the pool to the sea but many people are intimidated by these courses, and imagine the participants to be all fit die-hard triathletes. Whether this be true or not, there is definitely a demand for a female-centric course. Many women struggle to get into a swim suit, let alone a pool or the wide open sea. Yet it is exactly these women that would benefit so much from introducing open water swimming into their lives.

The course will run in June 2019 but we will be testing out the course content on some ‘willing’ volunteers in September 2018. Our working title is Women, Well being and Water. We will be working with other agencies, charities and local community groups to create a course framework that can easily be used by other groups and clubs.

There are points in people’s lives where they need support to build resilience and to make improvements to their wellbeing. We believe that outdoor swimming can improve outcomes for women experiencing mental health challenges from first-hand experience. Having an understanding of the benefits of getting in the sea all year round, the Seabirds want to help make sure more people have the opportunity. Their courses aim to reduce obstacles to sea swimming, empower more women to get in the sea and use this fabulous, free, local resource in a safe and confident way.

Many women that would benefit most from sport and physical activity are the very women who are least likely to participate for cultural, personal, practical, and economic reasons. Helping women to overcome these barriers and supporting them to engage in activity will provide them with many positive outcomes and ensure that access to sport and physical activity is equal for all.

Open water swimming benefits have been researched and written about a great deal over the last few years and is often referred to as Blue Science. In 2009, Prof Michael Depledge and Dr William Bird, from the European Centre for Environment and Health, based out of the University of Exeter Medical School, proposed a notion called the “Blue Gym” – the idea being that the sea can be used as motivation to exercise outdoors to influence health and wellbeing.

Various social factors put women at greater risk of poor mental health than men. However, women’s readiness to talk about their feelings and their strong social networks can help protect their mental health. Seabirds already have an established network of sea swimmers that gain confidence and happiness from being part of a community group. The course would act as a foundation for women to join the already established swimming community group providing them with respite from daily worries, a support network and a regular activity and meet up.

We literally cannot wait to get more women in the sea!

September Book Club Read

I am finding it hard to put into words my thoughts about the September Seabirds Virtual Book Club read. Just thinking about some of the emotions this book invokes starts the back of my eyes stinging and the laptop screen becomes a bit of a blur. It is also an impossible task as nothing I can even contemplate writing comes close to the authors wonderful way with words. I think the best thing to do is just read it, and read it again, and again and again and again.

Wild Woman Swimming is a collection of Lynne Roper’s diary entries about wild swimming. The entries were written over a five year period in which she was recovering from a double mastectomy until her passing. Lots of her thoughts, experiences and stories resonate with me as they will for anyone who has been fortunate enough to be part of an outdoor swimming community.

The book was edited by Tanya Shadrick, Pells Pool‘s writer in residence for the last couple of years. I was lucky enough to attend a Swim Talk event recently where Tanya was a participant speaker and heard her read extracts from the book. She has the kind of gentle brogue you could listen too forever, slightly hypnotic and incredibly soothing. And when the words she recites have such insight into the freedom and respite wild swimming can provide…… well you have the perfect partnership.

So here is a taster to wet your reading appetite. “It’s a spiritual experience, sliding through wild water. Worries dissolve, my mind is liberated; thoughts flow and glide and play like dolphins. My soul swims wild.”

Enjoy and may all of your souls swim wild.

**Disclaimer – This s a book to be read outside – may it go waterlogged, sun-buckled and wind-chapped.

Do it for David – alternatives to plastic

Being plastic free is hard. There are lots of images on Social Media and slightly preachy people telling you to change your ways as they eat from bamboo bowls. But old habits die hard. And giving up plastic is bloomin’ hard. They don’t tell you that. That conversation is not in the public domain about just how hard it is to avoid plastic all together. It’s easy to post and despair at a single tangerine peeled and packaged in a plastic tub. It’s also easy to avoid buying ridiculous products like this. But in reality, in day to day life, when you have a habit that has been part of your upbringing and culture for your whole life, it’s bloomin’ hard.  To even realise you’ve consumed single use plastic sometimes is hard as it’s our way of life to grab a bottle of water when thirsty or a ready-made sandwich when hungry. We all know we need to reduce our plastic consumption and stop polluting the seas or we will inevitably kill off life on earth. But we have a habit of convenience and a cupboard full of Tupperware.

However, as the famous supermarket that packages skinned fruit in plastic says, ‘every little helps’. And at Seabirds HQ, much like the rest of the nation, we have fallen for David, (not Hasslehoff). Along with 14 million other viewers we tuned in every Sunday night to Blue Planet II to listen to David Attenborough tell us, gently and stoically we are killing ocean life. We want him to be our uncle/dad/granddad and have him round for Sunday roasts. But who can forget the dead whale calf that the mother refused to let go. Hope in a hopeless situation.

David has bought the conversation to the table, the pub, on-line, Westminster. So let’s #doitfordavid and think about the small, easy, manageable changes we can make. There is no planet B so we need a plan A. Here is our Plan A Top 10 affordable and achievable changes.

  1. Straws – Do you really need a straw to drink your drink? Unless you are a small child or physically challenged I would suggest the answer is no. So when you are out and about either refuse a plastic straw if offered or bring your own stainless steel one. I like to slurp up my morning smoothie through a straw so have stainless steel ones in my cutlery drawer.
  2. Toothbrush – every time I watch Bear Grylls take some more nauseatingly annoying people onto a deserted island to survive I despair. Not just at the contestants, but at the tide of plastic on these beautiful paradise beaches and it is always toothbrushes! So switch to bamboo. Simples!
  3. Coffee Cup – this is a money saving change too. Most coffee shops will discount their coffee price if you are using a reusable cup. There are lots on the market to choose from but be warned some are made from plastic! So chose a bamboo, stainless steel or glass. (The paper disposable cups on offer do not recycle as they are chemically coated to make them waterproof.)
  4. Water Bottle – loads of people carry their own water bottle when they go to the gym, in the car or just out and about, So switch to non-plastic bottles. You can get aesthetically beautiful isothermal bottles now which keep water cold for 24 hours.
  5. Reducing microfibres – this is the invisible mainly unknown threat to our seas. Most of our clothes, especially from affordable high street stores, contain microfibres. Naked to the human eye, tiny pieces of plastic that make up the material, are released when washed into rivers and the sea. Avoiding the obvious ones like microfibre towel and replacing them with cotton ones is easy. Avoiding high street fashion is not so easy. Some shops like H&M have a conscious range of clothes made from natural organic materials like cotton that do not contain microfibres. For synthetic materials, an easy solution is a bag to use in your washing machine that traps the microfibres like a Guppy Friend.
  6. Shampoo – not all shampoo comes in plastic bottles. Many cosmetic companies are now creating shampoo bars. Seabirds are big fans of Lush shampoo bars which fit into a handy tin to store. A tiny bit froths up beautifully so it lasts for ages. We are still on the hunt for a conditioner bar that can handle our sea ravaged and (sun) bleached hair.
  7. Soap – we didn’t always dispense our soap from a pump action plastic bottle. In the days of yore we had bars of soap. So just go back to them!
  8. Bag for Life – I think most people now have these in their boot when they go to the supermarket. But how many people remember to take them to their local shops or are caught short during an impulse purchase. A string bag or fold away bag for life which folds into it’s own storage pocket is the answer. Mine is from a well known supermarket chain.
  9. Pick Up Litter – there are lots of local beach cleans organised by local community groups, Surfers against Sewage, Marine Conservation Society and the like. Here in Brighton we have the wonder Pier2Pier Silent Disco Beach Cleans. But you don’t need to wait for someone to organise one….don’t worry I am not suggesting you organise one yourself. But when you go to the park, the beach, or anywhere really, if you see litter pick it up. Yes the bins are always full and never emptied so take it home!
  10. Festival Pints – the summer staple for many is a festival and they are a great way to spend a hedonistic weekend. But oh the aftermath of litter. Obviously glass and cans are a danger to humans but the alternative plastic and wax coated paper cups used are a danger to the environment. So pack a stainless steel pint pot. It keeps your drink cold, for beer drinkers it retains the head and it is just so much nicer to drink out of. If you don;t believe us just ask Beer Yeti. Again we chill in the fridge and use for smoothies at home.

There are lots of other changes you can make. I have recently started to carry bamboo cutlery in my handbag and my swimsuit is made from econyl.  Many say why bother when our refuse collection companies don’t actually recycle the stuff we put in recycling bins……but David has given us hope. So these are our top 10 easy and affordable changes. No preaching, just suggesting. It is hard but #doitfordavid

Image result for david attenborough blue planet

 

Surf Solace – an introduction to the South Coast’s newest charity

Over recent years a lot has been written about young people’s mental health. The teenage years are a challenging time for all young people as they struggle with changing bodies, hormones and establishing their place in the adult world. For some, due to family relationships, socio-economic factors, mental illness such as anxiety or depression, unique traits such as autism, or specific traumas such as bereavement, it can all become just too much. Moreover, in these times of austerity, the services that provide young people with the support they need to navigate these challenges are sadly, barely available.

Local Fire Fighter, Shaun Challis, has become all too aware of this during his time coaching young people in various aquatic sports and school enrichment programmes. Hence his drive to set up a new charity ‘Surf Solace’ on the shores of Lancing Beach in West Sussex. 1 in 10 young people aged from 5 to 15 suffer from a mental health problem (Mental Health Foundation, 2013). Factors that can influence this are apparent in this community and the Local Authority report ‘Adur and Worthing Community Profile 2014’ shows Adur to be the most deprived local authority area in West Sussex; with anti-social behaviour as the most common crime. Adur also has the highest percentage of 16+ year olds with no qualifications in West Sussex, over a quarter of the entire 16+ population – a shocking statistic by any measure.

‘Taking the waters’ for health and well being has a long history in the UK. There’s growing evidence to support the tradition of sea swimming, surfing, etc for health and well being; suggesting time spent in natural settings, like beaches is beneficial.  

Surf Solace aims to improve young people’s self-esteem and well being by using the sea as a resource!  They will provide six-week, sea-based activity courses for up to 20 children and young people aged 11-18, who are at risk of social exclusion or mental health issues. Sessions will be delivered with 1:1 support from volunteers within the local beach community; bringing both participants and experienced sea and beach users together. The idea being that the participants grow in self-confidence and learn new skills to help them navigate through life. Most importantly, the sessions are free of any pressure to succeed – participants can work at their own pace and achieve their own goals. To take part, clients must be referred by someone working with them professionally, such as a support worker, teacher, doctor, counsellor or similar. Best of all, there will be no charge for the courses.

The new charity has 3 Trustees; all local people, who advocate the positive impact the sea environment can have on well-being and recognise the need for ‘Sea Therapy’ in the community. Phil is a local sports enthusiast who runs his own water activity company and has regularly volunteered as a mentor to young people.  Mel manages the BHT Threshold Women’s Service & their Mental Health and Wellbeing Service. In her younger days she was an outdoor pursuits instructor and a competitive swimmer. She is an experienced  psychotherapist who regularly volunteers for local community groups that focus on the sea and well-being. Lastly Ferg is a dad that has learnt to surf in his middle age and gradually love the sea! (mainly as he is forced to spend most of his spare time in the sea with his wife and kids). Crucially, he is familiar with the third sector and gives up much of his time to support small, local charities.

However, setting up a new charity is no easy task; particularly in the light of the bad press many larger, well known charities are attracting. The first hurdle has been a chicken and egg conundrum. In order to gain approval from the Charity Commission you need to demonstrate cash in your bank account. In order to get start-up funds via grant applications you must be a registered charity. So, unless you have a wealthy benefactor, you’re rather up against it. Seabirds Brighton CIC have pledged our support for the fledgling charity in the form of unrestricted funds via the profits from our trading arm web shop and crowdfunding campaign. Sadly, this has not yet been sufficient to launch the pilot therapy course planned for September 2018 due to substantial set-up costs. Amongst other things, expensive public liability insurance is mandatory sea activity equipment such as wetsuits and surf boards don’t come cheap. Although this has been disappointing for all involved, the upside is that it has provided more time to concentrate on fundraising activities to ensure that everything is ready to go in Spring/Early Summer 2019.

What you can do to help

  • Donate – either your time, old equipment like foam surfboards, wetsuits etc or cold hard cash. You can also contact them to understand how you can make a one-off donation or set up a monthly standing order to support their aim of getting more kids in the water and improving their outlook on life.
  • You can contact Surf Solace  by following them on Facebook to offer your services as a volunteer, both in and out of the water, or drop off old equipment.
  • Buy products from Seabirds to provide unrestricted funding for the 2019 courses.
  • Attend events – throughout the year there will be events to raise funds for Surf Solace – the most imminent being Perch Beach outdoor cinema nights on Lancing beach.

 

August Book Club Read

August already, so time for another book. I hope you enjoyed the previous two reads, The Salt Path and The Last Wave.

This Seabird is about to jet off to Turkey for two weeks and this is the book I am taking with me! The Whitstable High Tide Swimming Club by Katie May. The author is a sea swimmer who lives in Whitstable a shingle beach similar to that of Brighton. So she is a Seabird by default.

The Good Read Review said –  the uplifting novel about friendship, community spirit and how ordinary people protect what they love. 

It struck a real chord with me as it is about friendships formed on the beach and in the sea. There is a familiar backdrop of a change in personal circumstances for some of the characters. This is exactly how the Seabirds came together. During difficult times we found each other and the solace of sea swimming, drawing strength from each other.  We never planned to keep going all year round, we just didn’t stop and grew into a a wonderfully eclectic sea swimming group. We became the Seabird Community.

One of the book’s characters is described as a bossy organiser – I think I know that seabird is me!

As ever with the Seabirds Virtual Book Club please let us know your recommendations and you thoughts on previous reads. I can’t wait to get on a sun lounger and start this months.

Come Swim with us……….

Seabirds are a group of swimmers that swim in the sea on Brighton and Hove’s beaches all year round.

We are not an official club but rather a community of like-minded swimmers. We post in our Facebook Group where and when we are swimming for others to join. There are early morning, daytime and evening swims. The locations change as do the fluid times but are normally to the west of the West Pier. We even do day trips sometimes!

Some of us skin swim all year round and are great believers in cold water therapy. Others wear wet-suits. As the seasons change so does our attire and we can often be found cooing over a seabird latest swim paraphernalia buy. We don’t really care what you wear as long as you get in the sea!

We aren’t concerned with times or distances. Depending on who joins us on the day will dictate whether it’s a disciplined swim around the buoys or a leisurely social swim, parallel to the pebbles, counting the concrete groynes.

You can chose your stroke. Some do front crawl, others breaststroke and a few back stroke. We are yet to spot a butterflying seabird.

We understand that there are points in people’s lives where they need support; to build resilience and make improvements to their well being. The sea dipping and swimming seabird community provides company and respite from day to day challenges and worries. In the sea noone cares if you cry – (unless you are wearing goggles as it’s kinda counter productive.) It’s all salt water after all. Seabirds swim as a flock for a reason.

Even on days when it is too rough to go in we will meet and paddle, pilchard (lie in the shore dump) or walk. And there is always tea and sometimes even cake. We have no clubhouse so you need to be prepared to change on the beach!

Our swim spots are named and are  based on the Lifeguard Post they are situated within. Last year the crafty Seafront Office changed the names of them so they went in numerical order east to west. So we now have various names from D5 (Old name – short for Dolphin 5 in front of Hove Lawns Cafe) to Romeo 8 (New name in front of the bandstand).

As an ‘unofficial’ club we have no rules……but we also have no Public Liability Insurance and participants swim at their own risk. We stick to lifeguarded beaches in the summer months and make safe choices in the colder rougher winter ones.

So what’s stopping you? Come and swim with us!

What is a Social Enterprise?

What is a Social Enterprise?

Seabirds Brighton CIC gets asked this ALL THE TIME!

It’s a simple concept; a business that provides goods or services, just like any other. However, Social Enterprises reinvest profits back into their business and/or the local community. This allows them to tackle social problems, improve people’s life chances, support communities and help the environment. So when a Social Enterprise profits, society profits. Unlike a standard business, when they profit, the business owners, shareholders and stake holders profit. But like a standard business, a social enterprise must be successful in order to generate a profitable income in order to reinvest in the local community.

So, take the example of Seabirds. We are a Social Enterprise. We are also a Community Interest Company, with a social and environmental mission set out in our governing documents. We operate both a Trading Arm and a Service.

Our Trading Arm operates the same way as any other retail outlet on the open market. We sell stuff on our web-shop, an Etsy shop, at pop ups and in local small businesses. The products we sell are, for the most part, aimed at people with a social conscience that wish to buy ethical and sustainable products. We then reinvest a percentage of our sales turnover into local community-based projects that meet our objectives and funding priorities of i) local/community based, ii) sea/beach centred iii) aims to improve well-being and the environment. For 2018 we have selected Surf Solace – a newly formed charity based in Lancing. Surf Solace is an organisation that provides sea-based activities to improve young people’s mental health and well being in the local communities of Adur and Worthing in West Sussex. The donation provides an alternative, unrestricted funding stream for this newly- formed charity.

Our Service operates in the same way as any other service provider on the open market. We are in the process of developing a ‘Women’s Water Confidence’ programme. We intend to run a 6 week course for women who wish to improve their physical, emotional and mental well being.  Many women struggle to get into a swim suit, let alone a pool or the wide open sea. Yet it is exactly these women that would benefit so much from introducing open water swimming into their lives. Women’s readiness to talk about their feelings and their strong social networks can help protect their mental health. Seabirds already have an established network of sea swimmers that gain confidence and happiness from being part of a community group. The course would act as a foundation for women to join the already, firmly established swimming community-group providing them with respite from daily worries, a support network and a regular activity and meet up.

I know we will continue to be asked until it becomes more ‘mainstream’ but basically it’s about doing business for good. More details can be found on Social Enterprise UK website.