Start Swimming with Swim Dem Crew

Hackney-based TV star aims to get more inner city youngsters involved in swimming challenge

Start Swimming with Swim Dem Crew

PUBLISHED: 12:34 16 July 2015 | UPDATED: 12:34 16 July 2015

Ben Grounds

Andy Akinwolere with a group at a Swim Dem Crew training session


A new wave of swimmers are taking to the pool in east London – all thanks to a community project aimed at tackling the huge drop in participation since the London Olympics

Swim Dem Crew, created by Nathaniel Cole and Peigh Asante, launched at London Fields Lido in April.

The movement designed to offer inner city youth and ethnic minorities of all ages the opportunity to learn to swim within a supportive environment, at a time when fewer people are engaged with the sport.

Figures released by Sport England at the start of 2015 revealed that the activity had seen a drop of 245,000 participants over a 12-month period beginning in October 2013.

Of the 2.69million people who were reported to have swum at least 30 minutes a week, the vast majority are ly to have come from middle class or privileged backgrounds, given the cost to swim at pools predominantly owned by leisure centres.

The decline in participation has been felt no more acutely than in East London, where gentrification has led to the growing cost for a mother of two to pay for swimming classes.

Former Blue Peter presenter and swimming world record holder Andy Akinwolere wanted to change the visual make up of swimmers in the UK by bringing it to an audience usually unreachable.

Akinwolere, who lives in London Fields, is the figurehead of the ‘The Swim Dem Challenge’, in which a group of east Londoners have been challenged to learn to swim one mile in open water.

The first event took place in Manchester last weekend, with Tower Hamlets’ very own St Katherine Docks the setting for the second wave this weekend, and Akinwolere – who only learned how to swim himself a few years ago – can’t wait.

“It’s great to see how the group have taken up the challenge a fish to water!” Akinwolere told the Gazette. “There’s an 18-year-old, whose siblings suffer from disabilities. He is his mother’s righthand man, and this project is a form of escapism for him.

“It’s really transformed his life and he’s one of our best swimmers too. If you give people the tools, you can never underestimate the power of personal motivation.

“Four million people in Britain cannot swim, so targeting young people is tantamount to the project’s success. The idea of us being a crew as opposed to being a club takes the competitive element swimming and makes it a much more enjoyable and fun experience for the participant.

“It has brought us together to look no other swim team out there.’

“We wanted to take them up to Manchester first as a way of taking them their comfort zone. The North/South divide is very much akin to the social barriers were are trying to break down with this project, so it made sense.

“For those who have never swum in open water before, completing a mile is empowering and the confidence it can instil in those who may previously have struggled with their body image is unbelievable. Swimming is an exposing activity, so for many this really is the challenge of their lives.’

Akinwolere is ambitious.

During his days on Blue Peter, he set two world records for swimming in one of the deepest stretches of water on the planet. Akinwolere swam five miles across Palau Trench, an 8,000-metre deep abyss in the Pacific Ocean and was the first person to swim across the deepest part of the trench, holding the record for the deepest location for an open water swim.

All this came only a few weeks after he was unable to swim a length and was terrified of open water.

While his focus now is on changing lives by teaching the basic techniques of swimming, the TV personality is determined for his project to align itself with an even bigger movement.

“You look at the faces of the Team GB swimming team, and they are all white,” the 32-year-old continued. “But I want to prove that black people can swim! I know that the black community can do more to promote swimming, but it is down to everyone to think of ways to bring those swimming has lost back into the pool.

“The Swim Dem Challenge is geared at enabling people to find themselves, it is inclusive and was formed with the working class in mind. Wouldn’t it be great if we had a Team GB that actually looked Great Britain today?”

Akinwolere, who is an ambassador of The Swimming Trust, recently appeared in Celebrity Master Chef and is the face of BBC’s Inside Out, presenting investigative factual stories for the West Midlands.

With Akinwolere’s aim of making swimming more accessible, affordable and interactive for young adults, the whole of East London can get swimming again. One of the participants this weekend, 20-year-old Elizabeth Rufai, embodies this collective creed.

“I want to take on the challenge to overcome a fear of water. Aside from the main fear of drowning, I want to get over the reluctance to take risks and pursue new ideas.

“I think swimming is an important life skill that everyone should have – taking on this challenge will be a big confidence boost for me and a really exciting journey.”

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Take the plunge: meet the swimmers of London

Start Swimming with Swim Dem Crew

From diehard lido fans to really wild swimmers, Sonya Barber meets six Londoners who love to make a splash

Every morning I immerse myself in the cool refreshing water of London Fields Lido for 30 minutes of granny breaststroke.

Apart from the occasional annoying splasher, it is a soothing, meditative retreat – a necessary antidote to the stress, noise and pressure of city life, and a break from staring mindlessly at my phone.

It’s amazing how much a few gentle lengths can dramatically improve my mood and make me feel a functioning human being again. It’s a solo, simple, primitive pleasure.

I’m not the only one who appreciates the joy of taking a dip in the city.

Swimming memberships in London are on the up (leisure centre chain Better reports a 15 percent increase in the past year) while there are plans to open new swimming spots in Peckham Rye Common, the River Thames and the lake in Beckenham Place Park. And you only need a sunny day to see hundreds of people patiently queuing outside lidos, pools and ponds across the city.

Whether it’s for exercise, escapism or just cooling off, swimming is a treasured pastime for many Londoners. Here, some swimming enthusiasts share their stories about why they love taking the plunge. 

Mike Kahn, 65 (pictured above)

‘I discovered Parliament Hill Lido totally by chance. I used to change trains at Gospel Oak every day but had no idea what was just behind the trees. One evening, my train was cancelled, so I went for a walk and there it was. I went back the next morning and now, 16 years later, I’ve hardly been away. It has completely changed my life.

‘I swim every day, all year round, but I particularly love the winter – the sheer adrenaline rush of cold water and the warming up after. I wear neoprene boots and gloves so I can stay in longer. I come from a scientific background so I judge how long to swim by the temperature.

If it’s three degrees, I’m in for 12 minutes; if it’s four, I’ll go in for 17 minutes, and so it goes up. I’ve even swum when it’s been zero degrees. You have to be careful, though. I had a bad experience where I didn’t realise I’d stayed in too long.

I thought a heavy fog had descended, but I had started to lose my vision, which is the onset of hypothermia. Your body will tell you when to get out.

‘Swimming does wonders for me and I find it hugely beneficial for my mental health. When you leave the lido, you’re on a high. It’s very sociable too; we have a wonderful community and we all look out for each other.

‘I used to live ten minutes away, but I’ve moved so now I travel an hour each way to swim at Parliament Hill Lido. I never miss a swim, though. It’s important to have something to look forward to every day.’

Taynika, 38

‘I’ve always found water therapeutic. I swam all the way through my pregnancy until my son’s birth. As he got heavier it felt amazing to feel weightless.

It was a very quick labour and they told me they didn’t have time to fill up the pool for my water birth. I thought: I must have him in the water! And I’m so glad I did.

We started him swimming early to nurture the natural instinct babies have to swim.

‘He was only eight weeks old when we first took him and he’d often almost fall asleep. Now, at nearly nine months, he’s really comfortable in the water. Babies are in water [in the womb] for a long time, so there must be a level of it that’s familiar to him.

He’s not scared at all. He forgets he can’t actually swim and moves freely in the water; he splashes about, opens his eyes and drinks the pool water. During the hot weather, we’ve been down every day and I can see the ecstasy on his face as he cools down.

That makes me really happy.

‘He doesn’t have to be an Olympic swimmer. I see it as a life skill, just learning to ride a bike. You might not need to use it every day, but it’s important to know how to do it.’

Roberta Francis, 51 

‘I started Tags – London’s first transgender and gender non-conforming swimming group – in 2014 because there was nowhere for me to swim. There aren’t really any safe spaces for trans people where they don’t feel their bodies are being scrutinised. It’s lovely to have a space where we can relax, talk and have a laugh.

‘We meet in Lewisham every Friday and Swiss Cottage every other week. There’s no membership, people just turn up. Having a space where trans people can be themselves is what makes it so special. You have freedom inside a swimming pool that you can’t get elsewhere; your body is totally free. It’s such a simple thing that people who aren’t trans take for granted.

‘Swimmers who come are overjoyed – many of them haven’t swum for years because of their trans journey. A lot of people say their mental health has improved too. We had someone from Dublin who hadn’t swum in 20 years, and now they want to start a space in Dublin. The ripple effect is amazing – we hope it continues to grow.’ Roberta is the founder of Tags.

Oliver Pitt, 44

‘The thing about swimming in wild water is that there’s no sign saying “You can swim here”. That’s why we created this community – which now has 30,000 members – to show them places to go and equip them with the skills to do it safely. It’s such a simple pastime: you just need a swimsuit and goggles, and you can jump in.

‘You can get lost in the stillness of the stroke; it’s an almost Zen- meditation as you interact with your body and see the water gliding past you. Escaping into the cocoons of Hampstead Ponds and the Serpentine feels a special privilege. There are ducks and swans just five feet away from you because they don’t feel threatened; you’re no longer a human form, just a head.

‘The experience alters throughout the year: as the seasons change, so does the water. The trick to getting into cold water is to just relax and keep breathing – if you do feel panicked, float on your back. I swim all year round, so I’m used to it.’ Oliver is head of social media for The Outdoor Swimming Society.

Mary Cane, 72

‘I have been swimming regularly at the Hampstead Ladies’ Pond since the early 1980s when a friend took me. There are no signs to it so if you don’t know it exists, you’re unly to find it. You go through the pond gate, you’re in dappled shade and it’s just exquisite. It’s breathtakingly beautiful all year round and you get a real sense of the seasons passing.

‘Until I broke my hip, I was swimming twice a day, or three times when it was hotter. In the colder months, you have to treat it as a different thing. It’s more of a meditative process than exercise. Getting into cold water really is good for you. I swear by it and say it helps resist colds.

‘Being in a female-only space is wonderful too. There’s so much creativity and laughter. You learn more in the Ladies’ Pond changing rooms than anywhere else in the world. It’s full of people with lots of experience, advice and knowledge. It really is magic. It’s so nice to go with a friend and swim and talk. You talk through your lives, troubles and adventures. It’s swimming therapy.

‘My favourite thing is when you see a kingfisher sitting on a branch or diving in for a fish. It’s one of the best spectacles. My dying wish would be that every town create a pond in their biggest park and open them up so everyone could swim. Fresh water, fresh air and good company. What more could you wish for?’

Peigh Asante, 32

‘I got into swimming quite late in life. I used to run with Run Dem Crew but I got injured and my physio recommended I start swimming. I didn’t know how to, but I went to my local pool and taught myself.

The first couple of months I was swimming wrong. A lifeguard said to me “What are you doing, mate?” I said “I’m swimming!” “Nah you’re not,” he said.

“You need to get your head under!” So I had to start all over again.

‘I saw Emily and [Swim Dem Crew co-founder] Nathaniel swimming one day in London Fields Lido and I was : These people are me! We started swimming together and I would tweet about it with the hashtag #swimdemcrew. People started joining us and it grew so much that we decided to make it into a proper thing.

‘Fast-forward five years, and we have lots of spin-off crews and a revolving door of 30-50 people who swim with us every week. When I entered the swimming world, I noticed that there weren’t many people me. People think “swimming isn’t for black people”, but that’s just wrong.

That’s why it’s important for us to be as visible as possible so that people of different classes and races can see themselves represented in the water and realise they can do it too.

We’re all about community and empowering people – all barriers are removed when you’re half-naked!’  Peigh is co-founder of Swim Dem Crew.

Splash about in London's best lidos


Why you should try outdoor swimming this summer (and how to get started)

Start Swimming with Swim Dem Crew

There is something gloriously life-affirming about swimming outdoors.

Maybe it’s the direct connection to nature, or the bracing cold of the water – whatever it is, outdoor swimming is a fantastic way to get fit and make the most of the warmer weather – and you should probably give it a try this summer.

We get it – the thought of plunging yourself into some unknown, wild river or lake is daunting. So you need to be prepared, have your technique on point and feel as confident as possible.

We went along to an open water swimming masterclass co-hosted by Nike Swim and Swim Dem Crew – and their experts shared their experiences and best outdoor swimming techniques.


Sighting is something that you never have to have to think about until you swim in open water for the first time.

Swimming pools have lane ropes and guides painted in them, along with clear water that all help you swim in straight lines. There isn’t any of that in open water except for the buoys that are spread across the water.

The two main parts of sighting are to look forward just before you turn your head to breathe and to ‘sight’ every nine or so pulls.

If you do it too often, you can bring an unnecessary strain on your neck and shoulders.


Make sure to eat before you enter open water. Your body has to work harder to stay warm due to the typical cold temperature of lakes and the sea.

It’s even harder to stay warm when you haven’t fuelled correctly, so we advise to having a hearty breakfast before a morning open water swim.


After your first open water swim, you’ll get an idea of the parts of it that are too uncomfortable to want to do again, thankfully, there are plenty of accessories out there to make the transition easier.

  • Ear plugs
  • Nose clip
  • Gloves
  • Socks
  • Wetsuit
  • Rash vests (with neck material prevent from ‘wetsuit burn’)
  • Body glide
  • Safety buoy


Open water swimming is about efficiency. It’s not about thrashing about as fast as you can in the water, it’s about swimming effectively so you can travel the maximum distance with minimal effort from each pull.

This means incorporating an effective glide in the water after each arm pull and kicking your legs for body balance first, rather than propulsion.

Race tip

The starts of open water races are chaotic. Avoid the faff by starting on either side of the big crowd at the start of the wave.

That way you can get into your swimming rhythm in your own time, rather than being forced to sprint for safety at the start.

‘If you have never been in open water before – go in a group of a few people the first time,’ explains Peigh, co-founder of Swim Dem Crew.

‘Get an induction, don’t be silly me and sign up for a triathlon having done no training – that did not go well!

‘There are places that do inductions and help to acclimatise you the water, there will be a classroom session and they will go over dos and don’ts, so you won’t have to just jump in at the deep end.

‘When you get in the water, flush your wet suit, get water all up in there – just get a feeling for it. Take it in stages. Don’t see it as this one, big thing that you have to do – there are lots of steps to ease you in to it.

‘You’re this small thing in this big body of water – that is the harsh reality, and you have to respect that and just take it slowly.

‘For me, personally, open water swimming is a time to just escape. That’s what I love the most – it feels pure escapism. You get in the water and you’re in another world. Sometimes you need that.

‘In the hustle and bustle of the city there are very few places where you can actually escape the pace of that and let your brain really tune out from it – open water is a place that allows you to do that, and I love it for that.

There is an enduring myth that black people don’t swim, and while Swim Dem Crew are categorically proving that this isn’t true, it is true that swimming isn’t the most accessible sport – particularly for people from diverse ethnic and socioeconomic backgrounds.

‘It’s super important for me to get people who wouldn’t normally swim into the water,’ explains Peigh.

‘I think I would have seen that, it would have encouraged me to do it – because I learned to swim very late in my life. I taught myself as an adult after a running injury.

‘It’s definitely about visibility and representation.

‘I try to not even say that stereotype that we have all heard about black people and swimming – but unfortunately it is there. I want to dispel that and debunk those myths.

‘We’re doing it. We do swim. And you can as well.

‘People will find confidence in that – in seeing us doing that. If you can see me, someone who didn’t know how to swim and taught himself as an adult, doing what I’m doing – that’s got to give people confidence.’

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Swim Dem Crew – another wise monkey

Start Swimming with Swim Dem Crew

I’m a creative person who loves long distance running. I’m here because I love writing, and I want to share my words with a wider audience.

After many years of scribbling away in isolation at home, I love the fact these words can be read by people all over the world. I find the feedback from readers makes it more satisfying to blog publicly than to keep a personal diary.

You should read my blog if you want to read honest, from-the-heart posts with a running and creativity focus.  Continue reading “Who I Am And Why I’m Here”

It’s that time of the year when we look back at what has gone before and think about what 2015 may hold. These are a few of my favourite things from 2014. Continue reading “Three Is The Magic Number”

Whisper it quietly, but there’s a new fitness movement under way. It started a few months ago in London when Nathaniel Cole, Emily Deyn and Peigh Asante decided to take the ethos of the running crew they love so much and apply it to swimming. Swim Dem Crew was born.

Swim Dem Crew was born Run Dem Crew- a running family of creative heads all striving to better themselves through pounding pavement, track and trail. If you’re not familiar with them, check out my blog post on #crewlove.

 As well as running together in London, the crew hook up with other running crews around the world several times a year to race marathons and party in international cities.

I’m excited to see if Swim Dem Crew can branch out this in time, perhaps with triathlons.

Nathaniel, Peigh and Emily are old-school members of the crew, and each have gone through their own personal transformations. They are exponents and examples of crewlove and brought boundless energy and enthusiasm to the opening Swim Dem session. Peigh only learnt to swim recently but can really move, while Nathaniel and Emily both look fish in water.

Last Saturday, at London Fields Lido, the first Swim Dem Crew open swimming session was held. I was nervous as I made my way across the park. I hadn’t been swimming with more than one other person since I was about 12 years old.

Being of slight build, I was having doubts about the sanity of taking my top off and and swimming on a cold January day in an outdoor pool. I was also wondering how the family nature of the crew would translate to this setting.

When you run with friends there’s lots of opportunity for chat, but with our heads in the water I was worried we would just be swimming endless lengths repetitively, barely talking to each other.

My swimming skills are pretty basic. They’re normally only dusted off when on holiday, but I had been swimming occasionally for the past couple of months as part of my rehab from a running injury.

Thankfully, my fears soon evaporated the steam rising from the heated pool in the crisp morning air. As I arrived I caught up with My-Ha and Luke, and before I knew it I was chatting away with Nathaniel.

As we made our way out to store our things in the outdoor lockers the cold was biting, so we kept moving, showered and got into the pool as quickly as possible.

Nathaniel explained their would be three groups- Tadpoles, Dolphins and Sharks. All three groups would be swimming 20 laps of the 50 metre pool, so we’d be swimming 1 km in total. This was to be done in 100 metre bursts in separate lanes, one for each group.

Tadpoles had 4 minutes to swim 100 metres. If you finished early, you had more time to recover and chat before the next 100 metres. Dolphins had 3 minutes for each 100 metres. Again, swimming quickly gives more rest time. Sharks had 2 minutes for each cycle.

How you manage to rest and do that is beyond me.

I opted to swim with Tadpoles, and was looked after superbly by Peigh. We swam a warm-up lap, and then set off doing our first 100 metres. I found we were comfortably able to swim the distance in about 2 and a half minutes, so there was plenty of time to catch our breath and chat in between reps.

As I looked across at the Dolphins and Sharks moving gracefully through the water, I was inspired to develop my technique and move up groups soon.

There were 16 of us swimming, mostly people from Run Dem Crew, but the age varied from as young as 7- Sacha- who was there with his Mum and crew member Sanchia- to (ahem) myself.

It was great splashing about with Sacha in the shallow end each time we completed our reps.

I had a really great time. I don’t think I’ve been swimming with that many friends since a kids’ birthday party when I was 12.

The different groups were well thought out and the balance was right between pushing to become a better swimmer and having a good time.

The crew are really friendly and anyone is welcome, although tiny Speedos, as one male crew member found out, are not part of the uniform. I think this video gives a good indication of the vibe.

Swim Dem Crew is going to visit lots of different London venues over the coming months, so there’ll be a chance to get involved for anyone based in the capital. It’s happening every Saturday at 10am.

I believe the next one is in London Fields again, and then after that there is talk of Crystal Palace. If you want to find out more about the crew, hit them up on or Instagram under the @swimdemcrew handle.

London Fields Lido is also well worth a visit. It’s quite spectacularly beautiful in the crisp morning air, and I can’t wait to see the seasons change as I swim under the trees that tower over the pool. The session cost £4.65 for adults and  £2.80 for children. The lockers are 20p.

So don’t let anything stop you from joining the fun. Get yourself down to the next Swim Dem Crew session and join a group of runners who love to swim. I’m proud to have been at the first open session, and I’m sure by the summer the numbers will have gone through the roof.

There aren’t many better ways to spend a Saturday morning. It would not surprise me in the slightest to see other swimming crews popping up in cities across the world. Bring on the first Swim Dem Crew Bridge the Gap.


Swim Dem Crew: The club uniting lonely Londoners through swimming

Start Swimming with Swim Dem Crew

The Swim Dem Crew is an inner-city swim group focused on the power of community, bringing together city dwellers through water-based fun. ‘London can get you down,’ explains co-founder Nathaniel Cole. ‘But Swim Dem can help keep you afloat!’

The Swim Dem Crew is an inner-city swim group focused on the power of community, bringing together city dwellers through water-based fun. ‘London can get you down,’ explains co-founder Nathaniel Cole. ‘But Swim Dem can help keep you afloat!’

“Swimming is really boring!” exclaims Nathaniel Cole, co-founder of Swim Dem Crew, when I ask him why he set up the club.

If the answer is different to what you would expect from someone who organises twice weekly swimming sessions for a revolving group of around 30 people, welcome to Swim Dem –Together with Peigh Asante, the pair started the project in 2013 after their positive experiences with group exercise at community-centred Run Dem Crew, something they refer to as a “massive, positive community”, and a vibe they sought to emulate in water rather than on land.

The pair are eager to point out that the focus of Swim Dem is not swimming, but rather to foster a sense of community and family.

Entry to Swim Dem isn’t decided by swimming ability – they have beginners here – but rather a process involving (among other things) a question about your favourite ice cream flavour. “You’re coming into a community – it’s not just a weekly class you go to,” explains Cole.

“We go on trips, there are meals, there are birthday parties… you gotta mesh well. I don’t care about swimming, I care about people. I want people who can do all that stuff, and swim.”

At its core, Swim Dem is a swimming club in which members attend two sessions a week: Monday evenings are held at the Aquatic Centre in Stratford and usually consist of intensive and drill heavy sets. Crucially, there is no sense of competition here; the only person you’re ever competing against is yourself.

Rabz, 24, has only been to 3 sessions, and despite being “really scared of water” when she first applied, is now already comfortable in the 3M deep pool. “Everyone is really welcoming, it’s really a family,” she says.

“They’re really patient when it comes to swimming – my first session I couldn’t get into the deep pool but Peigh talked me through it, kept pushing me, and by the end of my second session I was already moving away from the edge which was significant progress! He made me understand what was holding me back was mostly mental.”

Saturday sessions are more relaxed: the club moves around London’s pools and spends two weeks at each one, an opportunity to discover new parts of London that you might not have ever been to before, followed by breakfast. “I it because we get to meet new people as well,” Asante tells me.

He recounts a story where he posted their location for the day on the group’s Instagram, and when they got there an older woman was waiting at reception hoping to swim with them for the day.

“It was mad but brilliant, we’re still friends now! She showed us a cool local spot to go and eat afterwards, and we keep in touch.”

When I attend a session, it is the beginning of Mental Health Awareness Week, a topic Nathaniel is particularly vocal about when it comes to the importance of both swimming and Swim Dem respectively. “[The club] is good for my mental health because I get to see people and feed off their emotions,” he says. “It’s a really positive thing in my life.”

“With the act of swimming itself, it’s a chance to check out – when you’re in the water you’re focusing on not drowning. It’s a chance to step normal life. You can’t be on your phone, you can’t procrastinate. I it because I get to just focus on one thing for an hour.”

The importance of community is at the heart of Swim Dem. “I think London can be quite lonely, especially when you get to our age [Asante is 32, Cole is 27] and get a bit older,” muses Cole. “London can get you down but Swim Dem can help keep you afloat! We believe in the power of community and that’s what’s got us this far and what keeps driving us forward.”

Outside of Swim Dem, both Asante and Cole are creatives living in South East London – Asante works in advertising, while Cole is a writer and workshop facilitator – and this creative energy extends to their initiatives outside of the water.

This summer will mark five years of Swim Dem, and they plan to celebrate the event with a pool party, a film screening and a merchandise launch.

Outside of that, they’re recording a podcast, working on Swim Dem Soundsystem, and planning their next trip abroad for the 30 odd members of the club.

In the longer term, the pair want to take their project global. “You rarely see black and brown people swimming,” says Peigh, with a laugh.

“Not in a big-headed way but we’re driving the culture, and we wanna make sure we stay at the front and get to meet and work with people who have set up their own versions of Swim Dem in other countries”.

Look out for this water-based family in a pool near you soon.

Learn more about the Swim Dem Crew on their official website.

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Start Swimming with Swim Dem Crew

Start Swimming with Swim Dem Crew

Few sports incite apprehension in novices quite swimming, which is understandable, as it’s very difficult to drown or be eaten by a shark on even your very first attempt at jogging.

One sure-fire way to help overcome your pool paranoia and make swimming more enjoyable is to go with other people. Swim Dem Crew is a relaxed swimming club for all levels that meets in lidos and pools all over London each week. Coach spoke with co-founder Peigh Asante to find out more about Swim Dem Crew’s origins and ethos.

RECOMMENDED: Benefits of Swimming

How did Swim Dem Crew get started?

It started by circumstance – I got injured running, and the physio suggested that I should swim as part of my rehabilitation. I saw that [Swim Dem Crew co-founders] Nathanial and Emily were swimming loads as well, as when I went to the pool all I’d ever seen were mums and babies, and people over 60, so I was shocked that there were people my age swimming.

Emily and I just started swimming all the time, every Saturday,and it just organically grew from there to be honest. It was never a premeditated thing, it just sort of happened. People would join us and, eventually, it got to a point where it just grew and then we started putting the word out.

How long did it take you to get good at swimming?

It took maybe four months to have the confidence to do a triathlon [Peigh’s first triathlon was at Dorney Lake in Eton in 2013], but my swimming was really terrible, looking back on it, my swimming was absolutely sh*t. But I still did it.

RECOMMENDED: Total Immersion Swimming for Triathletes

Why do you think people are apprehensive about swimming?

There’s a lot of faffing about. With running you sort of put on your shoes and hit the road. With swimming there’s a lot more involved, and plus, it’s the one sport where you really do have to leave your ego at the front door. With running you can stop or go as slow as you want, with swimming you don’t really have that.

Is there a key ethos at Swim Dem Crew?

There’s not one in particular, but we want people to be daring and willing to go into the unknown.

It’s about challenging yourself, so we always try and encourage swimmers to push a little bit further and embrace it a child.

When you’re child you don’t really develop the notion of fear or anything that, you just do it and then think about it after, and that’s something that we definitely try to encourage at Swim Dem.

What’s the best way to get involved?

Every Saturday we tour – we put a poll on , and the people decide where we swim. So vote, get involved in that poll, decide where we swim then meet us on that Saturday.

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Do you have any advice to give people nervous about swimming?

Just do it! Don’t overthink it, we spend a lot of time planning, thinking and not enough time executing.

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Feature — iON

Start Swimming with Swim Dem Crew

Feature articles and Interviews from some of Britains most influential and inspiring individuals.

The historical fear that black people have of the water is one of the longest running stereotypes in the community, however Swim Dem Crew exist to challenge that, and we met with ½ of the Crew, Nathaniel Cole, to dive right in.

“I’ve been swimming my whole life, my Mum didn’t want that stereotype ‘black people can’t swim’ to be true for me. I stopped swimming and got a place in the London Marathon, and my training plan included one day of swimming but it was really boring swimming up and down by myself.

Peigh started swimming too because he got injured running the half Marathon.

We were swimming in London fields on different days and we were posting pictures on Instagram, and we thought why don’t we just swim together? and we become really good friends, As we were putting more and more pictures online, people were – can we swim with you guys, so we decided to create a community around swimming and tour London’s different pools. “

Fears of the water

“Body image, trust as a new swimmer and also just outright fear of drowning. You’ll see people swimming in the deep end because their friends have, and they can’t swim.

Why would you put yourself in danger? You have to let go of your ego. With swimming you really start at zero, but people that excel faster in lessons is because they put in work.

When Peigh was injured, he swam everyday for 6 months without fail.”

Community involvement

 “People can look at Swim Dem Crew and see – Oh this is how swimming can also look. The swimming world is very elite and athlete driven, but at Swim Dem we are just normal people with normal bodies. If you look up black people that swim, you’ll find Swim Dem.

People can see themselves in something. When we did our ‘Learn to Swim’ project with Swim Challenge with Ayo Akinwolere and Harley Hicks, where we taught young people how to swim, after they learnt how to swim, they were able to find new jobs and do stuff they wouldn’t usually do.

It gave them confidence.”

“A swimmer called Kai couldn’t swim a year and a half ago, he was in the baby pool with water up to his knees. Through swimming with us and Harley, he’s learnt how to swim really well and he’s become a swimming teacher. He’s also a carer for his family, on Friday nights he teaches others to swim.

For me, just to have been part of Kai’s life in a positive way is a personal highlight. Also the Android advert and how big it was, I’ve done talks at marketing events and at the CAA, which was really well received. We also did the Dart 10K, which is the best open water race in England.

We took some of the swimmers from Swim Dem down, and it was such a nice weekend.“

The future

“Seeing more of us (Swim Dem), do more interactive stuff. We sell hats, so bring out more products.

We’ve reached out to people all over the world to ask them to review pools for us, so we’ll have a whole collection of where everyone swims in the world, so as part of our community, we can suggest if you’re in France, swim here. If you’re going to Grenada, you can swim here. Ultimately, we want to get more people in the water.”

From first hand experience, swimming with Swim Dem Crew is everything Nathaniel has expressed and more. The non-judgemental sense of community we felt on our first day was so special.

Now having acquired their own Swimming lane at London's Aquatics Centre and a published article written by them in The Guardian, Nathaniel and Peigh are building a precedence for swimming, providing a safe place for individuals to challenge themselves in the water, and ultimately welcoming individuals to join a diverse community of people who are unafraid to swim to the deep end. 

In line with International Women’s Day and Mother’s Day this month, the woman Nathaniel is inspired by is Nimko Ali. “She tackles FGM issues in society and her homeland of Somalia. She's unapologetic in her approach to call people out for what they are and is a person that does plenty more good for the world than bad.”  Read more about the blood bank she is developing to reduce maternal mortality here Visit the Swim Dem Crew website for more information. Socialise with them too – Instagram: @swimdemcrew | : @swimdemcrew |  : Swim Dem Crew

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Event Info

Start Swimming with Swim Dem Crew

The 2019 Swim Serpentine festival featured talks and short films that celebrate the inspiring characters and incredible adventures from the world of open water swimming. The festival will be hosted by Jonathan Cowie, Editor of Outdoor Swimmer magazine, and Contributing Editor Alice Gartland.

Talk: Swimming 'The Minch'

Accomplished Scottish swimmer Colleen Blair has been swimming in open water since the age of seven. She has swum in the UK, Ireland, Holland and America doing marathon swims and challenges ranging from 17k to 50k. Colleen swam the length of Loch Ness at the age of 19 and was the first person to swim across the notorious Pentland Firth, from mainland Scotland to the Orkney Islands.

Colleen shares how over 30 years of open water swimming led her to become the first person to swim 25 miles from the Isle of Lewis to mainland Scotland.

Swim Dem Crew are an urban swim club who believe in the power of community. Founded in the summer of 2013, their mission is to get more people swimming, make the sport more inclusive, less solitary, and a lot more social.

Nathaniel Cole and Peigh Asant, the co-founders of Swim Dem Crew, discuss how the idea came about and swimming as a tool to empower people.

Open water swimmer, adventurer and environmentalist Lindsey Cole became the Urban Mermaid, swimming the length of the River Thames, as a mermaid, to raise awareness about plastic pollution.

Lindsey will be sharing her experiences from her 'Swimming With Strangers' adventure after spending six months travelling across the UK.

Films: Swimming Around the World

The Tonic of the Sea: Katie swims off the rocks of Penzance nearly everyday of the year. Swimming has helped her overcome some of the struggles that life all too often throws our way. The hope is that her story may help others who are faced with similar challenges.

Chasing the Frog: The Frog Graham is a swimming and fell running challenge in the Lake District. Covering 40 miles and 16,000 feet of ascent plus four lake swims. This is Dan Duxbury’s tale of how he beat the current record by two hours.

Chasing the Sublime: A mesmeric look at why adventurers adventure, and swimmers swim. Shot in Loch Hourn, Scotland, in 2018, the film documents the swimming adventures of Kate Rew and Kari Furre of the Outdoor Swimming Society.

AMA: Performed and directed by French freediver, dancer, and filmmaker Julie Gautier, AMA is a video performance project that follows the artist’s graceful underwater movements.

The Swimmer: Stephen Redmond from West Cork was the first person ever to complete the world famous ‘Ocean’s Seven’ challenge. This film looks at the beauty and the poetry of Stephen’s passion and delves into the peculiar, solitary psyche of an open-water swimmer who spends much of his time immersed in a world underwater.

Well Preserved: There is no better way to start the day than an early morning sea swim. It’s physical, mental, spiritual, communal – all wrapped up in a simple dip in the sea. Join a group of swimmers in the Faroe Islands as they share why they swim.

This event is curated by Kendal Mountain Festival

Also at the festival..

  • Children with Cancer UK will be hosting a superhero-themed children's area with fun and games for all to enjoy
  • Warm up for your swim, then relax and recover with Club La Santa
  • Swimming accessories will be available to buy from Huub, official wetsuit and swimming accessories partner of Children with Cancer UK Swim Serpentine
  • Swim Secure will have a limited number of tow-floats available
  • Open water art exhibition curated by artist Nancy Farmer
  • Charity meet and greet areas provided by Alzheimer's Society, Macmillan Cancer Support and MS-UK where swimmers can celebrate their achievements with supporters