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Event details:

  • Fistral Beach (south)
  • 10.00am – 4.00pm
  • Saturday 15 May 2021

To mark Mental Health Awareness Week, Cornwall Voluntary Sector Forum (VSF) is proud to be collaborating with members Wave Project and Cornwall Mind to promote the benefits of sea swimming and surf therapy on mental health and wellbeing with a community event in Newquay.

The event will take place 10.00am – 4.00pm on Saturday 15 May at Fistral Beach (south) where people will be able to find out more about the benefits of cold water swimming, try it out for themselves and learn more about the charities involved.

The theme for this year’s Mental Health Awareness Week campaign is nature – and for many in Cornwall, the ocean is an integral part of people’s lives.

According to Cornwall Mind, statistics have shown that since COVID-19 seriously interrupted and changed our lives, people are spending much more time outside in nature. The past year has inspired lots of people to take up a new outdoor activity, here in Cornwall, sea swimming has just bloomed due to its positive impact on mental health and wellbeing.

Studies have examined the effectiveness of cold-water swimming in the fight against depression and evidence continues to grow that getting in the sea, having a surf and having fun with friends in the water makes a measurable difference to people’s mental health.

The Wave Project began back in 2010, when a group of 20 young people sat on the beach at Watergate Bay, Cornwall, for a surfing lesson. They had all been diagnosed with mental health disorders, ranging from mild to severe. Some participants had been self-harming, others experienced severe anxiety, low mood or depression. One participant was diagnosed with schizophrenia. Yet to watch them on the beach, none of this was visible.

It was the start of The Wave Project – the world’s first ‘surf therapy’ course funded by a government health service. The NHS had agreed to fund this as a pilot scheme, with a view to providing further funding if it was found to be effective. Following on from these humble beginnings, The Wave Project was formed as a community interest company in January 2011 and ten years on the charity is continuing to grow. It has recently announced plans to open a Beach School. The team is also running a pilot scheme with The Job Centre to help young adults aged 16-24 in receipt of universal credit get back into work, using surf therapy.

During the pandemic, the Wave Project continued to run Covid-safe wellbeing catch-up sessions in collaboration with Barnado’s. These were funded by the Department for Education, to provide children with an opportunity to de-stress and regain confidence to help combat the mental health impact of lockdowns and time out of school.

Cornwall VSF CEO, Helen Boardman said: “Cornwall VCSE organisations are doing an incredible job at improving mental and emotional health in Cornwall.  It you would like to learn more about the work of our Mental Health Alliance then contact sarah.phillips@cornwall.org.uk to find out more.”

This year, Wild Swimming Cornwall was founded on the premise that cold water immersion can have a positive impact on mental health. Their website provides information on the health benefits of cold water swimming, thorough safety guidance and a range of blogs. They have also written A Guide to Wild Swimming in Cornwall to make it easier and safer for those in Cornwall to take up wild swimming and experience the benefits for themselves. 

Below, co-founder Lydia Paleschi explains that whilst scientific research is in the early stages, there is still plenty of evidence to show how going for a cold-water swim can help us lead healthier and happier lives:

Benefits

There is a growing amount of evidence to suggest that cold water swimming can help to improve mental wellbeing as outlined below:

  • It boosts dopamine levels – Immersing the body in cold water boosts dopamine levels and increases the release of endorphins.
  • Ecotherapy – Being outdoors and connecting with nature has a proven, positive impact on mental wellbeing. Research shows that heading out into green and/ or blue spaces can help make us feel better. This also helps to combat the effects of Seasonal Affective Disorder.
  • Mindfulness – Sometimes it can be difficult to bring ourselves into the present moment, especially when suffering from depression, anxiety, PTSD and other mental health conditions. The feeling of cold water, combined with being outside in nature, helps us to experience a connection between body and mind. This can help to bring us into the present moment.
  • Community – The wild swimming community is notoriously friendly. By joining a local group or beginning to swim with people you already know, we can build on new and existing friendships. 
  • Exercise – Keeping fit and healthy can have a huge positive impact on both our physical and mental health. Swimming is an excellent form of exercise and can help lower blood pressure, increase immunity and is considered a low-impact exercise making it more joint friendly.
  • Reducing symptoms of anxiety – Overcoming the resistance to entering cold water can help us to build mental resilience. Over time this helps us to become more confident and boost self-esteem.

Safety

If you embark on any new physical activity, it is recommended to first check with their GP to make sure it is safe.

Before starting a wild swim, it is crucial to undertake a risk assessment. Advice is to never swim alone and understand personal limits. The risks increase considerably during the winter, when there is more swell, and the water and air temperature is colder. However, the risks are present all year round.

To find out more about the event or if you would like to volunteer to take part in the event please email ellen.rudge@cornwallvsf.org or elin@waveproject.co.uk

Find out more about volunteering with the Wave Project here