Almost 140,000 children cannot swim the statutory 25 metres when they leave primary school. That’s a concerning one-in-four and, when you consider more than 400 people accidentally drown in the UK every year (one every 20 hours), the need for education and increased safety awareness in and around water is vital.

The worrying statistics are included in the latest available data from Swim England’s Active Lives Children and Young People report, while research findings released by the Royal Life Saving Society paint an equally disturbing picture.

In addition to the 400 lives lost each year, thousands more have near-drowning experiences, some resulting in life-changing injuries. And to add further to concerns, just 33 per cent of parents were confident their child knew how to be safe near water and 80 per cent of respondents to a survey conducted for Drowning Prevention Week felt water safety skills should be on the national curriculum.

“Drowning is the third highest cause of accidental death in children in the UK and in many cases, it would be avoidable if we placed more emphasis on education and safety awareness in and around water,” says Sencio Community Leisure chief executive Jane Parish.

“More than 60 children drown every summer in the UK and it’s possible to do so in as little as five centimetres of water. It is unacceptable that young people are losing their lives as a result of drowning and that two-thirds of parents aren’t confident of their child’s ability to remain safe in the pool, while on holiday or playing around water.”

Sencio Community Leisure runs an extensive programme of swimming lessons at its three centres offering up to 40 classes designed for everyone from parents and babies to juniors and adults.

They are all taught by professionally trained teachers following Swim England’s Learn to Swim programme – the leading national syllabus for the delivery of safe, inclusive and effective swimming lessons for all ages.

Mark Horne, a swimming instructor for Sencio Community Leisure, says:

“Swimming is, of course, a fun pursuit as well as a fantastic, gentle-on-the-joints way for people of all ages to stay fit and healthy. However, we must also take seriously that being equipped with the training to keep yourself safe in and around water – even to a basic level – is an essential life skill every single one of us should possess.

“Sencio has a comprehensive swimming and water education programme that runs in conjunction with school term times and is designed to offer a structured route through which children can progress under a nationally recognised scheme,” explains Mark.

“It’s also important to recognise there are many adults who never learnt to swim – or swim adequately or with confidence – when young and are therefore also at risk. It can be hard to admit to addressing a lack of basic skill in certain areas as we get older but our teachers can help anyone of any age make themselves safer when it comes to swimming and being in or near water.”

Sencio Community Leisure’s next course of swimming lessons begins the week of Monday January 6 and enrolment opens on Monday December 14.

Visit your local leisure centre’s website below to find out more:

Swimming lessons at Edenbridge

Swimming lessons at Sevenoaks

Swimming lessons at White Oak

Conquering a life-long fear of water

For Debbie Bell, being pushed into the deep-end of an outdoor pool at the age of nine led to a 30-year fear of water – and a memory that, to this day, sends shivers down the spine.

Family finances meant that, as a teenager, she was unable to continue with lessons and although Debbie tried to acquire skills in the water, the sense of panic never really left her.

“Although I continued to develop my swimming skills on and off throughout my life, the fear of deep waters never left me,” explains Debbie.

“So much so that when knowing I was in the deep end of a pool (I never chanced swimming in open seas) I started to panic and swim frantically, consequently causing myself more physical damage than physical fitness.”

Fast-forward to June this year and Debbie, prompted by a frustration at not being able to enjoy holidays with her teenage sons, decided it was time to overcome decades of fear and sign-up for swimming lessons at Sevenoaks Leisure Centre.

“I decided it really was time to try and address this. My boys have had lessons since they were little – and one of them took swimming life guard for his GCSE – and it just dawned on me that I was missing out on family fun as well as obtaining a life skill we should all acquire and, unlike me, preferably when we’re young,” adds Debbie.

Her coach, Chris Coggin, says of his student: “It’s significantly harder to learn to swim as an adult as there is fear of failure and often a lack of self-assurance that comes naturally to many of us when we’re young. Debbie has done remarkably well in just a few lessons, developing skills and really building her confidence. She should be very proud of herself.”

Debbie adds: “I initially joined a very small group of just three other adults, all of different levels and abilities. It was only during the second package of lessons I’d purchase that I had the light bulb moment.

“Chris made me realise I can float and ‘tread water for longer than anyone needs to’ (his words) and following that he made me swim to the deep end, stop in the middle, tread water and then repeat the routine.

“He really made me notice and think about what I was already doing, like floating, swimming and treading water. But because of my fear I was subconsciously ignoring such skills and only focussing on the fear. From then on I went on to improving my techniques and even learning to dive, something I always envied about my boys swimming in lakes and sea.

“I have to say a huge ‘thanks’ to Chris for believing in me and for all the encouragement and support. This achievement has given me a boost of confidence, not just in water but in other areas of my life.”

Chris, who has represented Sevenoaks Swimming Club, recently graduated in economics from Oxford Brookes University and has just started studying for his masters, is passionate about helping people of all ages acquiring confidence and safety skills in and around water.

“Many adults have never learnt to swim properly either because they never had the proper opportunity or, as in Debbie’s case, they had a bad experience as a child,” says Chris.

“Swimming isn’t just a great way of keeping fit, it’s an invaluable life skill – especially when you consider 400 people die every year from drowning as a result of an accident in or around water.”

Find out more about swimming lessons with Sencio:

Swimming lessons at Edenbridge
Swimming lessons at Sevenoaks
Swimming lessons at White Oak