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.

 

Seabird’s Book Club – July Book

So I finished the Salt Path. It was a wonderful read. I know many of the places referred to on the SW Coastal Path so it was very familiar to me. The situation the main characters found themselves in, is not. It left me heart broken at times, especially knowing that this was NOT a work of fiction! A read for the bedroom or the sofa rather than a public beach unless you are wearing a huge pair of Jackie ‘O’ glasses to hide the tears. I really warmed to Raynor – a survivor in the truest sense. If you haven’t read it yet – DO!

This month’s book is The Last Wave by Gillian Best. Her debut novel. I am already nearly finished and is an easy read. The story is told by the main characters – each with their own perspective on events that happen throughout their lives. Always in the background is one woman’s love of sea swimming and the escape from day to day drudge, responsibilities and worries it provides. The main character, Martha, is clearly a Seabird. I hope you enjoy the July read.

Here’s the blurb: A beautifully rendered family drama set in England between the 1940s and the present, following the life of Martha, a woman who has swum the English Channel ten times, and the complex relationships she has with her husband, her children and her close friends.

The one constant in Martha’s life is the sea, which offers an escape from her responsibilities as a wife and a mother, consolation when she becomes ill and comfort when her husband succumbs to dementia.

The Last Wave is a wholly authentic, tragicomic portrait of family life as it is buffeted by sickness, intolerance, anger, failure and regret. This mature and compelling new voice offers a novel soaked in empathy and salt water.

Here’s how the seabirds virtual Book Club works;

  • Once a Month a new book is chosen for the Seabird virtual Book Blub members to read.
  • It will be announced on Social Media.
  • Ideally the book chosen should be water, sea, swimming, well being related.
  • Anyone can chose a book or write a review – just comment away on social media or here.

 

 

The Fish that remembered how to swim…the sequel

Solo swim around the buoys. Feeling very proud of myself as I am not a solo swimmer. The other seabirds opted for a parallel groyne run but I was desperate for a long 'proper' swim. After a quick moon dip on Tuesday night and  sharing the water with 30 kids yesterday and wednesday I actually welcomed the solitude and only got spooked once  by a fish.  As is usual I obviously chose the wrong direction to swim. Really hard leg home against a current pushing me out and west when I wanted to swim in and east. Took what felt like forever. Sandy bottom view was beginning to get monotonous.  Lovely welcome home crowd. Lots of teeny tiny jellyfish attracted to the movement of my hands. Took a while to see them as so translucent and super speedy. Think they may have been stinging me which felt like tickles. (Swim robe available @seabirds_ltd)  #justkeepswimming #soloswim #swimbuoys #swimbetweentheflags #swimsafe #jellyfish #swimrobe @booicorestore #skinswim #outdoorswim #iloveorange #swimyourselfhappy #getinthesea #saltedwellbeing #stillsmiling
There has been progress since the Fish that forgot how to swim.
Today I did a solo swim around the buoys.  I am feeling very proud of myself as I am not a solo swimmer. Seabirds swim in flocks. The other seabirds opted for a parallel groyne run but I was desperate for a long ‘proper’ swim. I was going against the formation.
I was provided with lots of Seabird support and encouragement to give it a go. The Sea Front Office boat was patrolling with a crew and helm that I knew. In reality it’s no different to swimming with others. You can’t chat when you have less than a second to take a breath. But something about knowing there is a Seabird nearby gives you confidence to venture further away from the shore.
So after a quick cheerio, I set off! After a short moon dip on Tuesday night and sharing the water with 30 kids yesterday and Wednesday I actually welcomed the solitude and only got spooked once by a fish. I was quickly in a one, two, three, breathe hypnotic peaceful rhythm.

As is usual, I chose the wrong direction to swim. Even after my Tidal Walk lesson. In my defence, the Lifeguard on post went for a swim during her break and swan the same way….so I just assumed she had opted for hard start and easy finish.  Obviously not. It was a really hard leg home against a current pushing me out and west when I wanted to swim in and east. Took what felt like forever. Sandy bottom view was beginning to get monotonous.

There was a lovely welcome home crowd. A couple of Seabirds frolicking in the shallows but also lots of teeny tiny jellyfish attracted to the movement of my hands. Took a while to see them as so translucent and super speedy. Think they may have been stinging me which felt like tickles. Wikipedia tells me they are baby moon jellyfish. I was transfixed for ages watching them.

So 4 hours later and I am still smiling. Smiling because it was a lovely swim in crystal clear turquoise warm water. Smiling because the jellyfish were so cool and I felt like I was in an episode of Blue Planet. #doitfordavid. But most of all smiling because this seabird swan solo. She broke the flock formation, came back and it reformed on the beach post swim with a cup of tea and a picnic. I can do it!

From wet behind the ears to wet behind the ears!

The Seabird’s natural habitat is the sea in Brighton and Hove. Not behind a desk struggling with software, Social Media and suppliers. As the weather (and sea) have warmed up this is where we have found ourselves more and more. Why? Because after many conversations over post swim cuppas and cake, three of our flock decided to set up a Social Enterprise.

The company name Seabirds was chosen as it reflects the three Company Directors and how the business was conceptualised. Seabirds are a group of women that skin swim in the sea all year round on Brighton beach. Seabirds was born of the sea (and in the sea, literally).

Over the last 6 months we have registered Seabirds Brighton as a Community Interest Company with two aims:

  1. To run a successful trading arm that generates an unrestricted and alternative funding stream for local community groups and small charities. Our beneficiaries must meet our objectives and funding priorities of i) local/community based, ii) sea/beach centred iii) aims to improve well-being and the environment.
  2. Deliver regular women’s water confidence programmes in the local community

All of this sounds great doesn’t it? Being you own boss. Working around family life and other work commitments. And it is, but who knew we were so green.

When setting up the business we thought that the experience from our previous lives, that we bought to the table, ticked all the boxes. Backgrounds in Project Management, Design and Retail. Even so the learning curve has been a very sharp arc. Sometimes a vertical climb.

We navigated our way through understanding which legal structure was right for us. Wrote a Business Plan. Applied for a bank account. Bought domain names. Launched a crowdfunder. Attended webinars and workshops on Marketing and Finance. Lot of lovely friends have helped us every step of the way, providing guidance and expertise.

Today we launched our website and online retail business. This is where the learning became steep. Every supplier we deal with wants our in-house designs in a different format from .ai to .png. Their lead times vary from 2 days to 2 months. We are still waiting for some stock to arrive. Our website host Customer Service team are super friendly and helpful but many of the things we want it to do, it just doesn’t do, or we can’t get it to do. Then we decided to launch the webshop at the same time as GDPR was being rolled out. All the while we are trying to understand twitter.

But we’ve done it! It’s Live. It’s launched. And we’ve had some sales. And we couldn’t have done it without each other. For every wobble there was a cuddle. For every frustration there was a voice of reason. For every ‘I’m going to throw my laptop out of the window’ moment there was company and cup of tea. We doff our caps to every sole trader and entrepreneur that has gone before us. The utmost admiration for people that do this alone without a supportive network of seabirds.

The next few weeks will be spent analysing google analytics and researching meta tags. Not standard language for a seabird. Nothing comes without a hashtag. Everything is a marketing opportunity. All of  it is outside of our comfort zone. But it will also include a return to our habitat. Time to take our own advice and Get In The Sea!