A week ago pupils about to move into first or second year at high school attended an event aimed at promoting safety in and around water, while the children were reminded that swimming is a “unique sport” to be enjoyed.
The day was designed by Scottish Swimming and RLSS Scotland as part of a national water safety education scheme, which is the Scottish Summer Safety and Drowning Prevention Campaign. The Douglas Ewart High School and Merrick Leisure Centre hosted the event with a wide variety of emergency services in attendance, in addition to the particularly popular guests Andy Mayor - a Commonwealth swimmer from Annan - and the Scottish Swimming mascots, Splish and Splash.
Scottish Swimming business manager Amanda Church lead the event, which she hopes to take nationwide in the near future. She started by stressing the importance of the message being conveyed, going through some shocking statistics: “There are over 450 drowning fatalities in the UK each year. Nearly half of them are from June to September.”
The balance between having fun and not taking unnecessary risks was highlighted, and the listeners were encouraged to learn to swim if they couldn’t already. Asked if more widespread availability for swimming lessons would lessen the worrying figures displayed earlier, Amanda Church responded: “Undoubtedly, yes.”
Andy Mayor, who said that access to pools was one of the factors holding people back, commented that he didn’t want people to miss the opportunities presented: “These kids have a pool next to their school - try to get involved, even if it’s not swimming but sport in general.
“Today is about make sure you’re safe, but there are so many opportunities without taking the risk.”
The groups then went straight into the action, as they began to move around the various activities taking important lessons from each. Andy jumped into the pool to help Fire and Rescue Scotland with their message. Watch Commander John Harvey described their part as passing on “techniques on how to rescue people from a safe distance.”
Getting across information was a theme repeated throughout the stations. The Police looked to teach people about the difference between 999 and the new 101 number, and their primary message to the listeners was “stay calm when you call”. Shaun McGuire, Station Officer of the Isle of Whithorn coastguard, also drew attention to the importance of knowing what to do: “The biggest killer at the seaside is a lack of knowledge.”
His colleagues operating the lifeboats shared an appropriate story of their first call out in 1978, which was from a Douglas Ewart pupil going home who spotted boats in trouble. Thankfully, it had a happy ending. The Scottish Ambulance Service, Galloway Mountain Rescue and the RNLI played an equally important role at the event.
After everything had drawn to a close, Amanda Church gave her thoughts on the day: “We went round all the stations and there’s a key message that goes through - never jump into water on your own to save somebody.”
The pupils also shared a positive view of the experience, and a number remarked that they were particularly pleased with the new skills they had learned.