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BY NATHAN RIDER Unite win to swim! Unite community women organise own swimming sessions

The determination of a group of mothers backed by Unite has overcome two-year objections to women-only swimming at a Bristol community pool. The Somali women were effectively excluded from their pool because leisure centre managers failed to recognise the need for the sessions.

Other pools across the UK cater for women who would feel over-exposed in a mixed session, for reasons of culture, confidence or simple preference, but Horfield Leisure Centre managers refused to contemplate these when asked over two years ago. “They said, ‘It’s too complicated because we have to shut down everything else,’” said campaign spokesperson Rahma Ali.

“It was really very sad, but at that time we didn’t have a choice. Many women don’t have enough confidence to go and mix with boys; and culturally it’s difficult to show your body.” The nearest alternative pool with women-only sessions is two bus rides away in East Bristol, at a travel cost of at least £3.20 per person. “By the time

you get there it’s often already so full that you have to come back, all for nothing,” said Rahma (pictured).

A campaign was begun by women who met regularly in a local sewing project. It won the support of Bristol NHS, which said the policy effectively deprived many women of their right to a public health benefit.

The turning point came when Unite stepped in to provide training in community action and computer use. Horfield Women’s Swimming Campaign was set up in February. Facebook and Twitter were used to spread the word. Over 400 names have been gathered in local and online petitions.

Efforts culminated in a Mother’s Day protest outside Horfield Leisure Centre. The children made placards declaring, ‘I want to swim with my mum!’ and stood side-by-side with their mothers to make their point. Local MP Charlotte Leslie

23 uniteWORKS May/June 2013

showed up, and the protest was covered by the region’s media.

Bristol City Council invited the women to a meeting, and shortly afterwards SLM Leisure agreed to start a women-only session from September.

The company also offered funding to subsidise swimming lessons, so they will only cost only £1 on top of the basic cost of entry. That will encourage mothers who can’t swim to venture into the pool with their children.

“We’re really happy about it,” said Rahma. ‘I’d like to thank everyone who supported and helped us.’ Discussions are under way to agree a suitable timeslot.

The sessions are for all women regardless of religious, cultural or ethnic background, and will also be open to boys up to eight years old. “It doesn’t matter who you are or where you are from,” says Rahma. “All women can swim.”

Paul Box

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