The consensus among swimming groups and clubs is that numbers of people enjoying outdoor swimming all year round in the UK are on the up.
The pandemic seems to have boosted interest even further with this increasingly popular activity proving a useful antidote to loneliness and isolation. Outdoor swimming presented an opportunity to get some exercise, explore the local countryside and even visit new places in search of different waters.
Guernsey is no exception. Min Henry was herself someone who enjoyed a dip, usually in her favourite spot at Pembroke. Back in 2020, she found herself post-swim in November, sitting on the beach wondering if any of her friends might fancy joining her for the occasional swim during the winter. So she set up a Facebook group page there and then. The following weekend, around eight people joined her. Now the group, Guernsey Swim All Seasons, has an incredible 3,800 members, something Min herself would never have foreseen.
‘We started off organising a group swim on Saturdays. Then added a midweek swim at 6.30pm to allow people to get there after work. Since then, we have had trips to Lihou, ‘sunset & soup’ swims, evenings in Herm as well as an annual dinner.’
The ethos of the group is that everyone is welcome, irrespective of ability.
‘I would never have described myself as a swimmer,’ Min said.
‘I always stayed within my height but then I bought a float board and that gave myself the confidence to go a bit deeper. But at every group gathering, there are always people of all abilities. Some will want to stay in the shallows, others will set themselves a goal to swim to a bobber and back. It’s just a really a wonderful social thing.’
The group has welcomed a number of people new to Guernsey and Min is always keen to extend a warm Guernsey welcome to newcomers to the group and to island.
‘We have a welcome team who look out for new people. We put out a welcome board and make sure that no one is left swimming alone. For anyone new to Guernsey, our ‘buddy swims’ might be a good first step. Every evening some group members will post where and when they are swimming the following day, so that others can join them in a small group or just two or three people. It’s a great way to meet new people and create new friendships.’
Min spends a lot of her time running the group, now supported by a committee of eight. Her efforts have been recognised both locally, when she won the Guernsey Pride Inclusion and Diversity Award in 2022, and nationally when she was featured on BBC’s The One Show as recipient of The One Big Thank You for supporting her local community.
The next step is to establish the group as a charitable entity. In the three years since its inception, the group has raised an impressive £28,000 for local charities though merchandise and cake sales.
The benefits of sea swimming are well documented. It can improve fitness, reduce stress and anxiety, improve alertness and is good for the immune system. For Min, the feeling she gets from a swim can be summed up in two words: “pure joy.”
Lucinda Meadows, sea swimmer
‘In November 2022 we decided to make the move to the beautiful island of Guernsey. Swoffers was instrumental in finding the perfect house. Meeting people was proving difficult for me, I love the outdoors and had watched groups of people swimming through the winter at Pembroke and Salerie Corner and being in awe of them.
I started swimming in May by myself. I made a great song and dance while getting in the water but thoroughly enjoyed it. I was aware that swimming by yourself is not always sensible and tried to make sure there were people around or in the water too.
In July, at the opening ceremony of the Island Games, we were sitting at the Terrace enjoying a glass of wine when a lady by herself came and joined us, and in true Guernsey style we started chatting. She told me all about Guernsey Swim All Seasons and how to find them on Facebook. I sent a request there and then and have not looked back.
My first group swim was incredible, a large number of men and women of all ages chatted and laughed as I peered round the wall at ‘the slabs’ at Pembroke. There I met Min Henry for the first time. She greeted me with a big smile and a very warm welcome. She introduced me to a few people, all of whom were lovely. We stood on the steps for a photo, me hiding at the back! Then we all piled into the sea.
I had never envisaged swimming out to the yellow bobber but did and loved every second of it. The noise of chatter and laughter in the water was lovely. From this day I have swum most days with people from SAS, group swims, buddy swims, very early morning swims (not my thing!) and am still swimming.’
Min Henry, founder of Guernsey Swim All Seasons