Ben Shue and students taking lessons with SwimSafe Bendigo. Photo: ANDREW PERRYMAN.

A VISION to ensure all people feel comfortable swimming in water has seen the birth of a new voluntary ran program in Bendigo this summer – and it’s already having a measurable impact on the lives of both children and adults.

Started by Ben Shue and led by a team of 10 fully-trained volunteers, SwimSafe Bendigo offers free basic water safety and swimming lessons to any child, teenager and adult who have not had the opportunity to learn.

This will help establish confidence around the water as well as connecting them to their community.

For Mr Shue, reasons such as lack of finances, fears around water, past experiences, cultural background and lack of access have kept people from having lessons.

“I  was hoping that … (people) could have the same opportunity to learn to swim as many people in Australia,” he said.

“There are resources available, in this case people who would like to teach others to swim, mixed with people who would like to learn how to swim.”

The program has been funded by City of Greater Bendigo’s community grants program, and is a partnership between Loddon Campaspe Multicultural Services and Golden Square Pool.

In the first three weeks of the program, 133 students have accessed lessons, with the large amount of volunteers leading to a small student-to-teacher ratio, with some lessons being one-on-one.

“The students have had lots of care and support, and lessons run up to 60 minutes, instead of 30 minutes,” Mr Shue said.

“That’s important, because it takes the time pressure away, and therefore the students can then learn to feel comfortable in the water at their own pace.”

Mr Shue said that for most Australians who have grown up around water, learning simple swimming skills comes easily as they’re grown up around it, but for others, that’s not been the case.

“Fear of water is normal if you haven’t grown up close to a swimming pool or had the opportunity to learn how to swim, and as an adult this can be deep seated, and can be very challenging for a person to learn how to swim,” he said.

“We’ve had students who were unable to even put their head under water. They have not learnt how to float on their front or their back.

“A swimming instructor that is patient, supportive, caring and mindful of the students’ individual needs, provides an atmosphere where the student can trust that instructor.”

But since mid-December, Mr Shue said volunteers have seen vast improvements.

“There were some students who were unable to blow bubbles underwater, who are now swimming 25-metres in just three weeks,” he said.

“One person said in their second week, ‘I now have no fear of water, whereas when I started I used to fear water.”

On a wider scale, Mr Shue believes that learning how to swim is a crucial element in an individuals’ social and mental health, as well as their self-esteem.

“Learning how to swim also enables people to connect with Australian culture and the wider community,” he said.

He cited times where people who aren’t water confident are unable to participate in water related social events.

“If people can swim, they’re obviously going to feel like they fit in, and feel like an accepted part of that community group. If they can’t swim, they’re less likely to a go away on that outing, therefore diminishing their opportunity to build friendships, and participate in wider community events,” he said.

Mr Shue said that such a program is especially needed in Bendigo as an inland city.

“Because we’re not near the beach, it means it’s even more important that people learn to swim, because when they do go, it’s an even greater risk if they haven’t learnt.”

Over the last month of the summer swimming season, participants and patrons at Golden Square pool will be undertaking a 2000 lap swimming challenge, offering a chance for students to display their skills and to raise funds to run next summer’s program.

“This program speaks to social inclusion … it’s important in helping people feel included, helping people feel less isolated and more connected,” Mr Shue said.

For more information on the program, find SwimSafe Bendigo on Facebook.

– Sam Kane