St Mungo’s swimming group

    Image: swimming group

    From left: Amanda, Charlie and Jim

    Amanda, a keen swimmer and support worker at a St Mungo’s hostel decided to help set up a swimming club for residents. We spoke to the group about the benefits of swimming and how it has helped them in their recovery from homelessness.

    How did the swimming group start?

    Amanda: I announced in our project newsletter that I was swimming the English Channel as part of a relay team for ASPIRE. This led to a lot of conversations with clients about the challenge and how we should go swimming as a group.

    Charlie: Amanda thought it would be a good way of bringing our community together.

    Stella: It was also a good way for us to support Amanda with her training.

    How was the first session at Tooting Lido?

    Jim: It was good to get out.

    Charlie: It reminded me of when I was younger. When I was growing up I grew very close to my neighbour Marina, who got me into swimming.

    She wanted me to have fun and enjoy water. Swimming helped me come out of my shell. We used to go with her son Carl, it was a memorable time, rich with love.

    Amanda: We had a lot of fun. Swimming is very freeing and it was great for people who hadn’t been in such a long time. The swimmers here all have a history of homelessness, with varying levels of ability and confidence in the water.

    The knock on effects were massive. One client used to be an accomplished swimmer but had lost her confidence. However, when we got to the pool she rediscovered her love of swimming and even demonstrated the butterfly stroke for us!

    Charlie: She was mesmerising and looked like she was in complete bliss.

    How would you persuade other clients to get involved in the swimming group?

    Charlie: I was in a dark place when I first lived in this hostel. However, after swimming we all talked about what a positive experience it had been.

    I would just encourage other clients to try it. For a lot of residents here, getting them out of their room is one step. The second is trying to get them to do something constructive with their time. Amanda gave us an opportunity and with a little bit of encouragement I decided to do it.

    Amanda: We wanted to ensure that all the potential barriers were reduced before we got to the pool. We organised a taxi to pick us up and made sure everyone had the right swimwear.

    Are you planning another visit?

    Amanda: We intend to continue this regularly once schools are back.

    However, money is a big barrier for us. We get a certain amount for welfare but this often doesn’t cover activities such as swimming. We rely a lot on donations from local businesses.

    Our client swimming group is taking part in our Make A Splash winter swimming campaign this December. We are challenging our supporters to brave the open water this winter and raise £50 for St Mungo’s. Your donations help us offer more activities for our clients that help build confidence, gain new skills and improve mental health. 

    What must be done to prevent homeless deaths

    Photo of origami flowers made to commemorate those who died while sleeping rough

    Following the news of an increase in deaths among people who are sleeping rough or in emergency accommodation, Rory Weal, Senior Policy and Public Affairs Officer for St Mungo’s, discusses what must be done to combat this rising trend.

    Today we heard the news that 726 people died while sleeping rough or in emergency accommodation last year. This is a 22% increase compared to 2017, the highest year to year increase since the Office for National Statistics (ONS) started publishing these figures six years ago.

    These figures should shock and shame all of us. The figure of 726 means that someone dies while homeless every 12 hours – that’s the equivalent of two people a day.

    Moreover, these deaths are overwhelmingly premature and entirely preventable – the mean age of death was 45 for men, and 43 for women. To have so many people die in this way, in such discomfort and distress, failed by so many is nothing short of a national tragedy.

    But this is not the sort of tragedy where we simply pause, pay our respects, then move on, bemoaning the wretched luck of a particularly unfortunate group of people. It is the product of collective choices and decisions, and should be regarded as a national emergency, one which needs urgent action.

    The context to these figures is that rough sleeping has risen by 165% since 2010, the result of years of funding cuts which have devastated crucial services and the unavailability of genuinely affordable housing. More people are sleeping rough, which exposes them to a greater range of harms – a premature death being the greatest.

    To stop people dying on the streets we have to stop them living on the streets. We need to build homes, to make the welfare system truly work for the most vulnerable and to fund homelessness services to help people find a way off the streets, and out of danger, for good.

    And we must also tackle the direct causes of death – the figures show the majority of deaths are so-called ‘deaths of despair’, the result of drugs, alcohol or suicide. Drug related deaths in particular have soared in recent years, and account almost entirely for the increase we’ve seen last year.

    Just as housing and homelessness services have become harder to access, so too have drug and alcohol services, leaving many people languishing with serious drug and alcohol problems and going without the support they desperately need. We still have a situation where most of these deaths will never result in a Safeguarding Adults Review, the legal review process for deaths which have occurred due to  abuse or neglect. As a result vital lessons are going unlearned. We now need a new national system to review each and every death.

    As we consider what we need to do to tackle this emergency, we must remember each and every life that has been prematurely lost in recent years.

    At St Mungo’s, to commemorate those people who died while homeless, our clients, alongside staff and supporters, have together hand made hundreds of origami flowers, in tribute to lives needlessly lost.

    The most fitting tribute of all, however, would be meaningful government action to prevent future tragedies.


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