Appeal to save swimming club

Young Gators swimmer Bonnie competing at the Essex County Championships last year
Young Gators swimmer Bonnie competing at the Essex County Championships last year

Waltham Forest Gators struggling to survive with limited pool, writes Ruth Fowler

Young people are among the less visible victims of the pandemic, having been affected in less obvious ways.

Take swimmers, for example. Waltham Forest Gators Swimming Club offers beginners, developmental, fitness, competitive and masters classes, from age four upwards. The club has been running for more than 50 years and a huge number of teen members have competed at county, regional, national and international levels.

Olympians Daniel Fogg, Jaime King and Martin Harris all started their swimming careers at Gators, before going on to represent Great Britain internationally. Phoebe Griffiths continued her journey from Gators to Ellesmere Titans and has competed for England and Team GB in open water and pool swimming, before receiving a scholarship this year to train in the United States.

Those who choose not to compete but enjoy swimming as recreation also have a home at Gators, with one of the club’s oldest members, a 72 -year-old, swimming on the masters programme. Gators currently provides swimming for 220 local residents in total.

But Covid-19 regulations have meant that pool time for the club and its swimmers is limited. In order to enact social distancing and comply with new safety measures, Gators need to increase their pool time (they train at several local Walthamstow pools), while simultaneously decreasing the numbers of swimmers who can be in each pool lane at any one session. This has meant, effectively, that Gators’ costs have doubled, putting severe financial strain on the club, which is a registered charity and run by volunteers.

Michelle MacMillan, the mother of Gators swimmer Bonnie, started a GoFundMe appeal to try and raise public awareness and funding, and prevent the closure of the club – which would mean many Waltham Forest swimmers, Bonnie included, would have to leave the borough to seek training elsewhere.

As many of these local swimmers navigate up to 16 hours per week of pool time, training with school and family commitments, juggling GCSE and A-Level coursework with 5am training sessions, travelling outside the borough would be simply impossible for them. There is no alternative club in the borough which can offer the high standards of training that Gators provides.

Michelle says: “Gators has provided my daughter with a purpose, and the benefits for self-esteem and good mental health are huge. Like many of her teammates, swimming is her dream and all she talks about. Without Gators, I don’t know what she’d do.”

During the lockdown, Gators members came up with creative ways to facilitate their training; cycle rides, runs, and open water swimming in freezing, murky lakes across London. But as we creep forward into winter, these become less feasible options, and the demand for pool time is great. In writing this article as the parent of a six-year-old who has just begun his Gators journey, I implore Waltham Forest residents to support our young swimmers.

Please sign up for classes, donate, and spread the word. If this crisis has taught us anything, it is that we have limited control over many aspects of our life – but keeping this club alive and flourishing is something that we can do as a community.

Help save Waltham Forest Gators Swimming Club by making a donation or becoming a member: