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BRAT open water swimming back with a splash

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Open water swim sessions run by Birmingham Running, Athletics, and Triathlon (BRAT) volunteers for BRAT members allowed for participants to grow their confidence in open water at the Upper Bittell Reservoir in Worcestershire.

Taking place between May and September, the sessions made use of a 400m marked course, with volunteers located on the bank and a lifeguard also present. Unfortunately, due to the global pandemic leading to a suspension of activity, the sessions were put on hold.

“As we suspended all club activity on the 16th March 2020, our normal restart date of mid-May fell in the height of the pandemic and lockdown,” said Christopher Davy, chairperson of BRAT Club. “Not only this, we had been working very hard to secure lifeguard training for some members to build our team of lifeguards for the season.

“Some of our previous volunteers’ qualifications had expired and our team had dwindled down to one remaining qualified open water lifeguard. Unfortunately, all of the training we were looking to secure was cancelled due to the lockdown so we had a real issue with lifeguards.”

After returning to activity, the sessions had to be adapted to ensure they were Covid-Secure and in line with British Triathlon’s guidelines.

Davy outlined: “The main thing we had to amend was online booking. We used ClubSpark to set up session registration, payment and to collect contact and emergency details. This worked incredibly well, and it’s a system we’ll never go away from now for managing session attendees and payments. No more trips to the bank with crumpled notes and miscellaneous coinage.

“We reduced our numbers and split the session in two to space out the numbers in the water and on the bank. In discussions with the sailing club, we agreed access to the toilets, but the members couldn’t use any changing facilities. Nobody seemed to mind that, and thankfully the weather was mainly favourable.

“We also had to add additional volunteer duties to our normal rota to ensure the site was secure, and social distancing was maintained on the bank and in the water. Luckily, our lifeguard is partner to one of our qualified boat drivers, so we had a ready-made safety team.

“We had to amend all of our paperwork and owe a lot to SH2OUT, Gareth in particular, for their advice and guidance. We look forward to completing SH2OUT accreditation for our 2021 season.”

The demand was palpable for sessions to return as soon as restrictions were lifted, however, Davy understood the importance of ensuring the sessions could be hosted safely. In addition to this, the club had to overcome new logistical challenges including availability of members as well as lifeguarding requirements.

He added: “Thankfully, we were able to secure a series of sessions across the summer and the members who came were clearly very grateful for the opportunity to swim in their club venue once again.

“We had a lot of new interest to the club as well during this time, as the pools were closed, and people were searching for opportunities to swim. It was great to see members new and old returning to the session and we were very happy to be able to have a positive impact on people’s wellbeing during what was a very difficult time for everyone.”

The return of activity was met with great feedback by those who attended the sessions, and Davy now looks ahead to the new year with much more optimism than he might have just a few months prior.

He commented: “I’d really like to thank everyone involved in not only this, but all of our BRAT sessions. It is a large and complex organisation, and the volunteers, leaders and coaches give up so much time to create opportunities for the wider membership. It’s wonderful.

“Members across the club at the moment are amending their routines and practices to adhere to our revised session procedures, and it’s critical we all continue to do this so that the benefits of sport can be enjoyed by all, even during the restrictions being faced by communities up and down the country at the moment.”

Davy has already began the club’s preparations for next year, revealing: “I’m happy to say that we have managed to train two more members to become qualified open water lifeguards, so we’re already in a better place for next season. Bring on 2021.”

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