Preserved in Salt

We don’t stop playing because we get old; we get old because we stop playing – George Bernard Shaw

“Forty is the old age of youth; fifty is the youth of old age.” Victor Hugo

Since its conception, the Salty Seabird Sea swimming community flock has grown rapidly.  Not sure whether it is due to the group name, the times we swim or because of the community aspect but the majority of our flock are female. And not just female, but females of a certain age. Most of us fall into the 45-55 age group and we regularly forget our knickers. But we feel a lot younger! 

As the sea temperature drops our numbers continue to grow. Swimmers who have been bathing regularly  over the summer are keen to continue, with company, into the winter months. Many arrive for their first swim consumed with anxiety about their swimming ability, what to wear and stormy seas. After weeks of bathing with us they are becoming confident water warriors. It’s good to do something you are afraid of. Swimming in the cold sea, when the waves threaten to knock you off your feet provides reason for a very real fear. It would be so much easier to go home. But what the flock have found is, it is a fear worth facing because the other side of it is a feeling like no other. It’s recapturing the feelings associated with our younger selves, having adventures, experiencing pure joy. We are preserving ourselves in salt!

Regularly swimming in the sea exercises our brain, keeping it young by learning new skills like how to read sea forecasts and how to exit the sea safely. Swimmers have learnt by experience that their fears can be overcome. This neuroplasticity, the brain’s ability to form new neural pathways and synaptic connections in response to learning, having new experiences or healing from an injury, keeps us young!

We are also exercising our bodies – but in a playful, kind way. Free from distraction, in the sea, we can tune into how our body feels (which is bloody cold most of the time). We begin to understand it in a way that is just not possible on dry land. Every part of your body immersed in cold water is talking to you and you have time to listen. We are weightless. We are soothing aching limbs. But we are moving. Anybody can get in the sea regardless of their swim abilities – and just move. This joyful movement has the added benefit of improving memory, focus and motivation. We really are preserving our youth.

Mother of all Movement, Kathryn Meadows puts it perfectly. After starting a family, struggling with PND which lead to an unbalanced approach to exercise, she stopped all intense training. “Part of my knowledge growth in that time was learning to love moving again. Moving for the sake of feeling how awesome my body was, not because I “had” to lift heavier or go faster or prove I was still fit. I fell in love with exploring how it felt to use my muscles well, to improve how efficiently I could use them and how amazing it was when I asked my body to do something challenging and it could respond.” This is also true of our Salty swimmers.

Women who swim through winter have a lack of fuss about themselves. Day-to-day dressing, hair and makeup do not apply here. It’s all about getting warm, fast post swim. Underwear is foregone, layers are essential and showers or hair brushing are positively frowned upon.  Photographer Christian Doyle photographed the Salty Seabird Swimmers as part of her ‘Against the Tide’ project.  She said, at the time “Getting your subject to relax in soft flattering light is the aim of every portrait photographer. None of the rules apply here – rather it is saying ‘this is us, how we are now, makeup free, cold and wet and unbelievably happy‘. And its’s true. We give less of a f@?k about what we look like. As long as we’re cold in the water and warm afterwards we are happy.

It is not just how our body looks that we are confident about, it is a confidence in its strength and capability in the water. We may not have washboard stomachs, toned biceps and the tight arse of our youth (did we ever?), but we are strong.  Whatever shape or size, level of fitness or swim ability our bodies are up to the task of winter swimming. Every month ticked off on the calendar is a reminder of what our wonderful wobbly bodies have helped us achieve. And we need to nurture those wobbles with cake.

During a woman’s lifetime they will experience huge changes. During the menopause years alongside all the delightful symptoms many of us are experiencing varying forms of grief. We are saying goodbye to our youth symbolised by our inability to reproduce. We are saying goodbye to our fledglings and they begin to leave the nest. And many of us are saying goodbye to our parents.  It can be a very lonely time and a time of great sadness. But there is a cure for this loneliness and it is swimming in the sea with a bunch of women who have or will experience the same grief as you. Alongside laughter and fun there can also be tears when we swim. But there will also be a hug, some stoic advice and a piece of cake. The salt in the Seabirds preserves your sanity.

Swimming in the salty sea I am not sure if we are being cured, or being cured, but we are definitely having fun! And as Mae West said; “you are never too old to be younger!”

 

A Seabird trying to be greener…..

On the day of the latest global school climate strike what can we do to try to be greener……..

The recent UK Government ban on plastic earbuds and straws is welcome, but it is nowhere near enough.

While I know personal changes are not enough without systemic changes I am trying to reduce my own impact so that at least I am less part of the problem and working towards a solution. The Sea Squids are quite rightly putting on the pressure, inspired and informed by their participation in the Climate Strike.

Here are 4 changes I have made (and most importantly managed to sustain!) to help reduce my own plastic footprint:

  1. Refill – if you only refill your laundry liquid and softener think how many plastic bottles you will save each year! Brighton has the fabulous WASTENOT in the open market off London Road and Harriets of Hove for those further West. (disclosure: We have extra love for WasteNot cos they stock our beautiful stainless steel pints)
  2. Donate empty food containers (big enough for storing a takeaway – like ice-cream and large yoghurt ones, those that have come into your life when you know they shouldn’t …).  Bring them to the Jollof Cafe on a Tuesday. They need them and can share them with another great community group MEP who also need them to avoid food waste. While you are there, stay for a tasty vegan lunch! (donations for the mutual aid foodbank also very welcome).
  3. Be prepared – don’t get caught short without a sustainable alternative to plastic bagssingle use coffee cups and water bottles etc in your bag. All available from us at Seabirds where your purchase will directly support our work to improve mental and environmental wellbeing. This takes a bit of forward thinking and I still kick myself when I forget but I am getting there…bag by the door helps…
  4. Glitter! For those of us who have found that surprisingly, glitter enters their life when you live in Brighton and with Pride, March of the Mermaids and festival season approaching: biodegradable glitters that are plant-based, planet friendly and packaged sustainably! Spotted on Plastic Free Brighton

We welcome your suggestions and shout outs for local plastic reduction tips/groups/shops below

Author: Seabird Cath

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.