Swimming is much more than a sport, much more than a leisure activity. It’s a survival skill.

We partnered with Studio Exception, an inclusive innovation consultancy, to conduct interviews with Black swimmers and non-swimmers across the UK. Our goal was to gain insight into the barriers that keep many of us from learning to swim in our communities around the UK.

We identified six significant barriers that limit us from learning the water safety skills needed to safeguard ourselves and our families. These six obstacles prevent us from fully enjoying water activities and swimming proud.

Our mission is to help break down these barriers. All of us should feel comfortable in the water, nothing should stand in our way.

Not shame. Not history. Not fear. Not accessibility. Accessibility is a barrier SOUL CAP has the power to help change.


SOUL CAP is donating £100,000 over the next 5 years to underserved communities.

We're committed to supporting swimming programmes and water-safety initiatives throughout the UK.

Through the SOUL CAP Foundation, we will help mobilise grassroot initiatives.

The fund can be used in various ways, such as supporting the cost of swim lessons, providing financial assistance to aspiring swim teachers, purchasing equipment, and promoting community-based swim initiatives.

The application window is currently closed.

Applications for September 2024 will open at the start of June.

Terms and Conditions apply.

Our Research Participants

Our research included six swimmers and five non-swimmers, who shared common opinions and struggles. Although each of their paths into the water – or away from it – has its own individual barriers.

{"image":"\/\/soulcap.com\/cdn\/shop\/files\/Artboard_1_copy_16_2x-100.jpg?v=1682333750","name":"","popup_title":"Meet Winnie","popup_text":"\u003cp\u003eRaised in Africa close to the sea, Winnie was not allowed to swim or be near the water. She believes the sea around where she grew up is truly dangerous and most people know someone who has drowned. There is no one to teach them how to swim.  \u003c\/p\u003e\u003cp\u003eAs an adult in the UK, her teenage daughters learnt to swim. To her, it was important they knew how to swim so they could enjoy the sea in Africa when they visited her home. She was determined to learn how to swim as well to enjoy the sea with her girls. \u003c\/p\u003e\u003cp\u003eNow, Winnie is a year-round, open-water swimmer in the UK. Before, she dreaded winter. But now, with open-water swimming, she is still\u003cbr\/\u003eable to get out and meet up with people. \u003c\/p\u003e\u003cp\u003e\u003cstrong\u003e“I've always had a connection with water, and I realized\u003cbr\/\u003ethat the depth of the connection, when I finally learned to swim.”\u003c\/strong\u003e\u003c\/p\u003e\u003cp\u003e\u003cstrong\u003e“I struggle with mental health. And swimming is the thing\u003cbr\/\u003ethat really has helped my head. It helps your brain to think of something else.”\u003c\/strong\u003e\u003c\/p\u003e"}

{"image":"\/\/soulcap.com\/cdn\/shop\/files\/Artboard_1_copy_22_2x-100.jpg?v=1682333768","name":"","popup_title":"Meet Tomi","popup_text":"\u003cp\u003eA non-swimmer, Tomi grew up and still lives in South London. Her parents both grew up in Nigeria. Her father once knew how to swim but her mother never learned. Neither prioritised it as a necessary skill while raising Tomi and her sister. \u003c\/p\u003e\u003cp\u003eTomi had a drowning scare at a young age and continues to fear deep water. And although she had lessons through school when she was young, she felt as if everyone else was far more advanced than her. The school curriculum wasn’t built for her to continue at an impressionable age. Her swimming education ended there. \u003c\/p\u003e\u003cp\u003eUnderstandably, Tomi believes schools have a big responsibility to incorporate and prioritise life-saving swimming education, as\u003cbr\/\u003ethe opportunity and facilities are there. To her, there’s also an opportunity within communities to prioritise adult swimming lessons and offer incentives or partnerships with swimming brands to make it more accessible.\u003cstrong\u003e \u003c\/strong\u003e\u003c\/p\u003e\u003cp\u003e\u003cstrong\u003e“People always judge you for not knowing how to swim. If you tell someone you can't swim, their first reaction is “Oh my gosh!” and soon they make it a whole thing.”\u003c\/strong\u003e\u003c\/p\u003e"}

{"image":"\/\/soulcap.com\/cdn\/shop\/files\/Artboard_1_copy_17_2x-100.jpg?v=1682333787","name":"","popup_title":"Meet Ayo","popup_text":"\u003cp\u003eAyo grew up in Nigeria then moved to the UK. His early fear of the water stemmed from his parents’ fears. In Nigeria, there were no\u003cbr\/\u003epools. Even though the country is coastal, going to the sea wasn’t part of the culture.\u003c\/p\u003e\u003cp\u003eIn the last five years, he’s moved to the Kent coast, near the sea. He found a connection to the water, although it scared him. Taking swimming lessons, he felt teachers didn’t have a lot of patience, especially for adults. However, once he started getting comfortable with the water and enjoyed the calmness of swimming, he quickly forgot why he was afraid of the water at all. \u003c\/p\u003e\u003cp\u003eThe way he was treated during swimming lessons inspired him to learn how to teach swimming, to help change this perception. During his training classes, he overheard others talking about how Black kids couldn’t swim. The current courses teaching swimming do not discuss diversity, they don’t tackle the issues around breaking taboos. \u003c\/p\u003e\u003cp\u003e\u003cstrong\u003e“What people don't understand is that the fear of water is greater than the ability to swim. If you can deal with that fear, getting people to swim becomes so much easier and so much more comfortable.” \u003c\/strong\u003e\u003c\/p\u003e"}

{"image":"\/\/soulcap.com\/cdn\/shop\/files\/Artboard_1_copy_23_2x-100.jpg?v=1682333804","name":"","popup_title":"Meet Mauva","popup_text":"\u003cp\u003eCurrently living in Catford, South London, Mauva is a retired nurse. Both her parents were Jamaican, and she was born there as well. Without the ability to swim, she’s frightened of deep water, although she has never had a bad experience. \u003c\/p\u003e\u003cp\u003eSwimming never appealed to Mauva. Even when she was young and around beaches, Black people were never in the sea. Her family didn’t want to stick out and sometimes worried that everyone was looking at them as the only Black family at the beach. On top of feeling like she didn’t belong, her mum, daughter, and granddaughter have all also dealt with their hair as barriers to swimming as well.  \u003c\/p\u003e\u003cp\u003eShe would like Black people to be publicly encouraged to learn how to swim, with representative campaigns to encourage participation. More information should be available about pool hygiene and about the health benefits of swimming, instead of limiting information to safety warnings and scare tactics. \u003c\/p\u003e\u003cp\u003e\u003cstrong\u003e“It's about the volume of hair. And about when you've relaxed your hair, you don't want the chlorine to get in your hair because it damages it.”\u003c\/strong\u003e\u003c\/p\u003e\u003cp\u003e\u003cstrong\u003e“If there was more representation when I was young, that would have made a difference… If I heard stories from people who have benefitted from swimming, that would encourage me to learn. There’s something about real stories.”  \u003c\/strong\u003e\u003c\/p\u003e"}

{"image":"\/\/soulcap.com\/cdn\/shop\/files\/Artboard_1_copy_15_2x-100.jpg?v=1682333820","name":"","popup_title":"Meet Abena","popup_text":"\u003cp\u003eGrowing up in the Caribbean, Abena’s grandmothers never went into the water, and cautioned her to be careful. She was the only member of her large family to enjoy swimming even though they lived close to a popular river. \u003c\/p\u003e\u003cp\u003eAbena went on to swim nationally for Jamaica before her family moved to the UK. Once here, she quickly learned that swimming wasn’t seen as something tied to academic achievement, so it wasn’t valued highly in the Black and Asian families in their community. \u003c\/p\u003e\u003cp\u003eToday, she is only the second Black woman to have a swimming school in London. Very few of her students are Black, although when she goes to teach Black students, she sees the relief on their faces. They appreciate being taught by a teacher who represents them. By empathizing with Black student swimmers, she recognises when caps are too tight and the importance of giving the girls more time to get ready and prepare before getting into the pool. \u003c\/p\u003e\u003cp\u003eNow, she values having a teaching team that is diverse, from different cultural backgrounds.\u003c\/p\u003e\u003cp\u003e\u003cstrong\u003e“If we had more grassroots representation and more diversity – from who's delivering the programs to the teachers – then there's a new generation coming up where you will definitely feel and see a difference.” \u003c\/strong\u003e\u003c\/p\u003e\u003cp\u003e\u003cstrong\u003e“It's the one thing that I kind of do on my own. It's my safe space. So if I'm feeling very tense, very stressed, I would go for a swim because it's just a really safe space for me.”\u003c\/strong\u003e\u003c\/p\u003e"}

{"image":"\/\/soulcap.com\/cdn\/shop\/files\/Artboard_1_copy_20_2x-100.jpg?v=1682333847","name":"","popup_title":"Meet Ricky","popup_text":"\u003cp\u003eGrowing up in East London where there were pools available, Ricky was never encouraged to learn. Instead, he gravitated to other sports such as football and rugby. In school, he felt awkward because of pool dress codes and chose to skip the lessons instead of dealing with possible embarrassment. He can’t tread water, something that makes him anxious and embarrassed. \u003c\/p\u003e\u003cp\u003eAs an adult, he feels resignation about swimming. He can’t swim but he also doesn’t put himself in situations where it becomes a problem. Only on holidays does he feel envious of the swimmers around him. Having Black role models and representation would have encouraged him to actively learn. Although he believes that stereotypes about Black swimming don’t help. The more people hear them, the more people believe it.\u003c\/p\u003e\u003cp\u003eToday, Ricky has two children. His daughter swims well at the pool, although he still is fearful of her being too adventurous in the sea. He still hopes to learn to swim so he can someday dive into the water and play with his young son.\u003cstrong\u003e \u003c\/strong\u003e\u003c\/p\u003e\u003cp\u003e\u003cstrong\u003e“It's a fundamental life skill really. And it should be treated as such and I hope kids are being taught to swim. Black or white or brown – I don't care.”\u003c\/strong\u003e\u003c\/p\u003e\u003cp\u003e\u003cstrong\u003e“Black people, Black families did not talk about swimming. I don't know a lot of Black people in those days that talked about their children learning to swim.”   \u003c\/strong\u003e\u003c\/p\u003e"}

{"image":"\/\/soulcap.com\/cdn\/shop\/files\/soulcap_6_2x-8.png?v=1682499328","name":"","popup_title":"Meet Daniel","popup_text":"\u003cp\u003eNow in his early teens, Daniel grew up swimming, having both a pool and a leisure centre nearby. He took his first lessons while still just a baby. \u003c\/p\u003e\u003cp\u003eHis mum encouraged the family to swim and if she hadn’t, Daniel wouldn’t have embraced swimming like he has. His father came from Nigeria where the water was considered dangerous, but his mum grew up swimming in the UK. For her, parents need to get in the water with their kids, show their own appreciation for it and the kids will want to do it too. \u003c\/p\u003e\u003cp\u003eAt his pool, Daniel doesn’t see many people like himself. He wishes there were more public information campaigns around Black swimming, even as simple as more Black representation in pool photos. Having Black swimming role models and social influencers would make a difference too.\u003c\/p\u003e\u003cp\u003e\u003cstrong\u003e“I'd feel happy if there's more Black people in the community that are enjoying swimming, because there’s far too many people that can't swim and it’s such an important thing.” \u003c\/strong\u003e\u003c\/p\u003e"}

{"image":"\/\/soulcap.com\/cdn\/shop\/files\/Artboard_1_copy_21_2x-100.jpg?v=1682333886","name":"","popup_title":"Meet Muriel","popup_text":"\u003cp\u003eOriginally from Barbados, Muriel came to the UK in the 1950s. She took swimming lessons when she was a teenager but did not continue and does not know how to swim now. She has a fear of the sea and doesn’t go in any further than her waist, neither do any of her friends. None of them were encouraged to swim growing up. Now, she fears for her grandchildren as well, warning them not to go into the water too far. \u003c\/p\u003e\u003cp\u003eShe wishes her fear of the water had not overshadowed her desire to learn how to swim.  She also wanted to have the life-saving skills to protect her children in the water if needed. \u003c\/p\u003e\u003cp\u003eIf given the chance, Muriel would have prioritised learning to swim when she was younger. However, she recognises that she wasn’t encouraged and there were no Black swimming role models when she was growing up.\u003c\/p\u003e\u003cp\u003e\u003cstrong\u003e“I would like to swim, but I don't know if that's possible because I'm so scared. I think that's what kept me from learning to swim: This fear I have of the sea.”\u003c\/strong\u003e\u003c\/p\u003e\u003cp\u003e\u003cstrong\u003e“And then with people drowning all around me, I'm thinking, they should never have gone in there.”\u003c\/strong\u003e\u003c\/p\u003e"}

{"image":"\/\/soulcap.com\/cdn\/shop\/files\/Artboard_1_copy_14_2x-100.jpg?v=1682333976","name":"","popup_title":"Meet Harley","popup_text":"\u003cp\u003eHarley lives about 10 minutes away from where he grew up in East London. Growing up, his mother prioritised learning to swim because it had been important for her to learn at a young age. For her, swimming lessons weren’t for fun, they were for life-saving skills. On the estate he grew up in, he noticed that his situation was more the exception than the rule. Cultural differences are key reasons people don’t prioritise swimming.  \u003c\/p\u003e\u003cp\u003eNow he is a swimming coach and teacher. He believes sport has always kept him out of trouble and swimming has had life-changing effects. His swimming club teaches a lot differently than how he learned growing up. Now, they instil the fun of swimming in kids first, before teaching skills. \u003c\/p\u003e\u003cp\u003eParents find reassurance in the fact that a Black man is the swimming coach. He believes that representation matters, that having role models who look like you matters to impressionable kids. \u003c\/p\u003e\u003cp\u003e\u003cstrong\u003e“I don't think swimming clubs have ever been very good at reaching out to new people or new communities, which is what I've tried to get my club to do more.”\u003c\/strong\u003e\u003c\/p\u003e\u003cp\u003e\u003cstrong\u003e“For swimming, the most important thing right now is having the role models on the ground.”\u003c\/strong\u003e\u003c\/p\u003e"}

{"image":"\/\/soulcap.com\/cdn\/shop\/files\/Artboard_1_copy_19_2x-100.jpg?v=1682333989","name":"","popup_title":"Meet Nii","popup_text":"\u003cp\u003eCurrently living in North East London, Nii was born in Ghana then moved to the UK as a young child. His UK school mandated swimming lessons and he enjoyed the lessons, but he knew even then that he couldn’t really swim. As a first-generation immigrant, he felt as if parent priorities were on extra-curricular activities that involved schoolwork, not sports. \u003c\/p\u003e\u003cp\u003eAs an adult it became more embarrassing to not feel confident in the water. The sea is an added danger to him as it is more unfamiliar. He feels more comfortable in pools. Adult friends attempted to teach him, but personal pride would get in the way. He believes that more role models and Black swimmers would have made swimming more of a priority. \u003c\/p\u003e\u003cp\u003eToday, Nii still has a desire to learn to swim for his kids. He believes adults need to prioritise swimming lessons for their kids, not only for its life-saving skills but also for the joy that comes with swimming. Also, it’s a gateway skill – knowing how to swim unlocks other opportunities, such as surfing and other holiday activities. \u003c\/p\u003e\u003cp\u003e\u003cstrong\u003e“It’s silly really, but you start to buy into things like ‘my bone density is too high’ or ‘I'm just not made for swimming’.\"\u003c\/strong\u003e\u003c\/p\u003e\u003cp\u003e\u003cstrong\u003eAs important a life skill as swimming is for survival, I think many first generation immigrants think education is the key life skill and thriving in the new environment. So that gets prioritized above everything else.\u003c\/strong\u003e\u003c\/p\u003e"}

{"image":"\/\/soulcap.com\/cdn\/shop\/files\/Artboard_1_copy_13_2x-100.jpg?v=1682334003","name":"","popup_title":"Meet Paul","popup_text":"\u003cp\u003eThe son of two immigrants, Paul’s mother is Estonian and his father is Nigerian\/Ghanaian. A lifeguard once told his mother that people of colour have heavy bones and culturally don’t have a chance in the water. Instead of accepting that rationale, Paul became a top swimmer at his primary school. He went on to train as a lifeguard, taught many family members back in Ghana to swim, and has used his life-saving skills many times to help others in the water. \u003c\/p\u003e\u003cp\u003eHe sees hair to be a barrier to the Black community swimming, as well as the cleanliness of accessible pools and the costs associated with booking swimming lessons and paying for time at local pools. \u003c\/p\u003e\u003cp\u003eNow, he runs a charity in Hackney that helps young people grow into leaders and addresses the negative effects of racial profiling. To break barriers in the water, he believes we need more Black role models, swimming instructors and lifeguards. Also, schools should place a stronger emphasis on swim lessons in their curriculums.\u003c\/p\u003e\u003cp\u003e\u003cstrong\u003e“Black stereotypes around swimming are still very present in a lot of people’s minds – parents still telling me ‘no he can’t swim’.”\u003c\/strong\u003e\u003c\/p\u003e\u003cp\u003e\u003cstrong\u003e“I feel parents have a massive role to play in encouraging their kids.” \u003c\/strong\u003e\u003c\/p\u003e"}

Interview Insights

The Black community faces significant obstacles to learning to swim in the UK. We have identified six primary barriers that stand out as the most significant.


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{"image":"\/\/soulcap.com\/cdn\/shop\/files\/Fear.jpg?v=1679671153","popup_image":"\/\/soulcap.com\/cdn\/shop\/files\/SC-83_1.png?v=1678973118","title":"INHERITED FEAR \u0026 DISADVANTAGE","popup_text":"\u003cp\u003eBlack parents are less likely to incorporate swimming into family activities; therefore, many children don’t learn from a young age. Once in school, Black children are then at a disadvantage as their swimming skills are behind those of their white peers. This has a negative effect on their confidence in the water from the outset. \u003c\/p\u003e\u003cp\u003e\u003cstrong\u003e“Whenever I went near the water, my mum would say, ‘Careful, careful! Get away from the edge, get away from the edge!’\u003c\/strong\u003e\u003c\/p\u003e\u003cp\u003e- Ayo\u003c\/p\u003e"}


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{"image":"\/\/soulcap.com\/cdn\/shop\/files\/SC-6_1.jpg?v=1679670972","popup_image":"\/\/soulcap.com\/cdn\/shop\/files\/SC-6_1.jpg?v=1679670972","title":"PRIDE \u0026 SHAME","popup_text":"\u003cp\u003eLearning to swim requires trial and error. For adults, they must face a level of vulnerability that is hard for most. In some Black cultures, especially cisgendered ones, masculinity represents strength and ability. It’s easier to avoid swimming altogether than to admit a limitation. Pride prevents them from learning a new skill and from feeling safe enough to try.  \u003c\/p\u003e\u003cp\u003e\u003cstrong\u003e“I cried afterwards… I think for me then, it was embarrassment of not being able to know how to do it and everyone else could. The school curriculum wasn’t built for me to continue at this more impressionable age.”\u003c\/strong\u003e\u003c\/p\u003e\u003cp\u003e- Tomi\u003c\/p\u003e"}


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{"image":"\/\/soulcap.com\/cdn\/shop\/files\/MYTHS_PREJUDICE.jpg?v=1679670875","popup_image":"\/\/soulcap.com\/cdn\/shop\/files\/MYTHS_PREJUDICE.jpg?v=1679670875","title":"MYTHS \u0026 PREJUDICE","popup_text":"\u003cp\u003eMyths persist about Black people being unable or less able to swim because of physical attributes, such as bone density. Although these myths have been disproven, many grew up learning that narrative and still believe it, making them less willing to give it a try.  \u003c\/p\u003e\u003cp\u003e\u003cstrong\u003e“The lifeguard said to mum that they have heavy bones and culturally got no chance – my mum was beside herself. That racist thought inspired me to wanting to challenge those underlying assumptions. I just wanted to prove him wrong.”\u003c\/strong\u003e\u003c\/p\u003e\u003cp\u003e- Paul\u003c\/p\u003e\u003cp\u003e\u003cstrong\u003e“It’s silly really, but you start to buy into things like “my bone density is too high” or “I'm just not made for swimming”.\u003c\/strong\u003e\u003c\/p\u003e\u003cp\u003e- Nii\u003c\/p\u003e"}


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{"image":"\/\/soulcap.com\/cdn\/shop\/files\/R_R.jpg?v=1679670743","popup_image":"\/\/soulcap.com\/cdn\/shop\/files\/R_R.jpg?v=1679670743","title":"RACISM \u0026 REPRESENTATION","popup_text":"\u003cp\u003eThe lack of representation at a professional or personal level means the Black community don’t feel an affinity with swimming. Undertones of systemic racism and a past that can be haunting makes people feel as if they don’t belong, as if ‘it’s not for us’. \u003c\/p\u003e\u003cp\u003e\u003cstrong\u003e“In England, a swimming pool fundamentally is a white space, or has been for so long – visually it can be quite off-putting.”\u003cbr\/\u003e\u003c\/strong\u003e- Ayo\u003cstrong\u003e \u003c\/strong\u003e\u003c\/p\u003e\u003cp\u003e\u003cstrong\u003e“When I was in swim tutor training, I felt very awkward in the room being the only Black tutor. Some people would understand and reach out, others would be more suspicious – what do you do about that?”\u003c\/strong\u003e\u003c\/p\u003e\u003cp\u003e- Harvey\u003c\/p\u003e"}


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{"image":"\/\/soulcap.com\/cdn\/shop\/files\/Access-Research_V3.jpg?v=1679670548","popup_image":"\/\/soulcap.com\/cdn\/shop\/files\/Access-Research_V3.jpg?v=1679670548","title":"ACCESS","popup_text":"\u003cp\u003eThe price for swimming is high – and going up – which for many in the Black community prevents access to swimming on a regular basis. Also, swimming pools and leisure centres around the country are struggling and closing. This leaves fewer options and more distance to travel to find a swimming location. Finally, swimming coaches and teachers of colour are fewer in numbers, leaving many feeling uncomfortable with their options for instructors who represent them. \u003c\/p\u003e\u003cp\u003e\u003cstrong\u003e“People downplay how much time and money you have to put in as a parent to get your child to swim. You have to find a place that's local.”\u003c\/strong\u003e\u003c\/p\u003e\u003cp\u003e- Tomi \u003c\/p\u003e"}


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{"image":"\/\/soulcap.com\/cdn\/shop\/files\/Hair-Research_1.jpg?v=1679669435","popup_image":"\/\/soulcap.com\/cdn\/shop\/files\/Hair-Research_1.jpg?v=1679669435","title":"HAIR","popup_text":"\u003cp\u003eThe maintenance of Black hair and skin can often be painstaking and expensive, especially for women. With a woman’s hair being conducive to body confidence and identity, the effect of water on hair outweighs the rewards of swimming. \u003c\/p\u003e\u003cp\u003e\u003cstrong\u003e“I loved my hair. I used to have long dreadlocks. So me doing 10 minutes in the sea was never going to happen because my hair was far more important.”\u003c\/strong\u003e\u003c\/p\u003e\u003cp\u003e- Ricky\u003c\/p\u003e"}