The Chairperson welcome Ms. S.J. Reynolds, representing Swimming Buddies, to the meeting.
Ms. Reynolds thanked the Members for the opportunity to present. She advised that Swimming Buddies was an accredited Inclusive Swim Centre for children with other abilities, the first of its kind in Europe. It specialised in teaching neurodiverse children water safety, water therapy and teaching them to swim as well as delivering accredited CPD training programs to the leisure industry on best practices for inclusive programs and facilities.
The representative then provided an overview of the organisation’s background. She advised that it had been established in Fleming Fulton School in 2017 and since 2019 it had also worked in partnership with the Brook Leisure Centre delivering an inclusive swim program and pioneering the way forward for the industry to reflect ‘best practice’ in inclusivity. She advised that the sensory pool and the whole facility at Brook were a perfect environment for neurodiverse children and their families to learn the key lifesaving skill of swimming and she highlighted the following key points:
· Sessions were currently based on a 1:1 learning platform for children between the ages of 4 to 14;
· Over 20,000 swim sessions had been delivered to over 300 families;
· Swimming Buddies was accredited by the international wandering, drowning prevention and inclusive aquatics organisation, Autism Swim; and
· It had 19 coaches who had extensive experience in working with and supporting the needs of neurodivergent children and young adults with differing support needs.
She outlined that what had started as a swim program for children on the autism spectrum had further developed into an inclusive program for a wide spectrum of neurodivergent children with a range of other learning needs. Swimming Buddies offered sessions to children and young adults with a range of disabilities, including physical and learning disabilities, visual and hearing impairments, autism, ADHD, brain injuries and many more. The individual coach’s expertise enabled delivery of person-centred learning, adaptable to each Buddie and their needs, including the delivery of sister programmes, Baby Buddies Sensory Swim and the Fit Buddies gym program.
The representative advised that the aim of Swimming Buddies was to expand its service, to offer this valuable life skills to more families and to ensure the leisure facility teams throughout the Belfast City Council area were trained and supported to the highest level to fully utilise the purpose-built facilities that were available to local families across the city.
In conclusion, she advised that an all-inclusive approach was not just desirable but necessary and Swimming Buddies was keen to assist the Council in bringing these plans to fruition.
The Committee then viewed a short video showing the work of Swimming Buddies which was available here.
Several Members thanked the representative for her presentation and for the valuable work that Swimming Buddies undertook in the Belfast area. Discussion ensued as to how the Council could best assist the organisation with sharing of its knowledge and also to ensure that, where possible, all areas of play and leisure offerings were inclusive to all in the city.
It was noted that the Council was restricted in what it could do in terms of its current leisure arrangements with GLL. During discussion the Director suggested that GLL representatives could be asked to attend the bi-annual update to the People and Communities Committee which would enable Members to discuss issues such as this directly with them.
The Members were advised that an update report on the Notice of Motion - Inclusive Leisure Services that had been adopted in December was scheduled to be submitted to the April Meeting of Committee and that this would include an update on the current provision offerings with the Councils leisure facilities and also detail where improvements might be required.
The Chairperson thanked the representative for her presentation, and she left the meeting.