Jersey Recovery College turns one year old this month, having helped 330 students during the course of 2017, all facing difficulties with their own mental wellbeing. Established as a centre of education, rather than therapy, the College looks to teach individuals methods they can use on a daily basis to help with depression, anxiety or social issues that come with mental illness. One of their most popular courses, the Sea Swimming programme, has enabled many to reconnect with society, offering them a safe environment to explore the benefits of swimming in Jersey's shores.
More than just a power of nature, the sea may actually hold the key for all of us to improve our wellbeing and lift our mood. I spoke to Jo Thorpe, sea swimming course leader at Jersey Recovery College and a few local dippers to understand how we all can swim our way to happiness...
The aim of the Jersey Recovery Sea Swimming course is to provide people with a safe environment, where they feel supported and never judged. Participants are all treated equal and never asked to divulge what their issues may be unless they volunteer the information. Jo's hope is that swimmers use the course to see the benefits of swimming, meeting like-minded people with whom they may continue to meet up and swim once the course has ended.
Swimmers are guided through the waters at their own pace and at their own level, carefully watched by the lifeguards at Harve des Pas pool and the course tutors. After their swims the group enjoy a hot chocolate together, chatting openly, exploring the murky waters of mental health without pressure or judgement.
"We've applied scientific research on the benefits of swimming to the course, but I never banked on the social impact it would have or those who felt isolated and withdrawn. Whilst it's not therapy, it is therapeutic and a time when the stigma of talking about mental health completely disappears."
The course has helped students come off anti-depressants, manage pain and feel connected to others once more. One student was blown away by the result of regular sea swimming, explaining "these session were far more than just the science behind how cold immersion soothes muscles, relieves depression and raises your mood. For me they were a key part of my recovery journey physically, emotionally, mentally and especially socially. I have discovered that however the world seems before a swim…it looks fantastic afterwards!”
The important work that the College is doing for Jersey residents was sorely needed and will only continue to grow with their success. The College has plans to extend its courses and will look at delivering a similar class through the practice of yoga. Thousands of Islanders take to the water every year, many perhaps not fully understanding why it is they are drawn to the waters and why they love sea swimming so much.
Ladies of L'Horizon
These lovely ladies of the L'Horizon Spa take to the waters of St Brelades Bay every day and in every condition. For them it is a chance to have some fun and feel free, preferring to jump the waves than to spend their time swimming lengths of the Bay. "We'll join in with the kids sometimes jumping over the large waves, it's our time to feel youthful and alive for a small amount of time. People think we're nuts but it doesn't really matter to us!" Sea swimming has become a social affair for these gals, who warm up from a cold winters dip with a sauna and afternoon tea at the L'Horizon Hotel afterwards.
The Swim Gang
The Swim Gang meet regularly throughout the year for group sea swims and are often found doing laps of Harve des Pas swimming pool. "Where else in the world do you have the opportunity to get down for a sea swim on your lunch break, no matter what the tide?" questions Simon O'Donoghue of the Gang. The group of professionals enjoy the peace and relaxation swimming gives them from their hectic work days, returning to their desks with a sense of calm and renewed enthusiasm. They enjoy a bit of friendly competition, with many having done long distance swimming races or individual challenges off Island. Their lunchtime meets gives them a chance to take time out of a busy day to catch up, enjoy the physical and mental benefits of sea swimming and, on this one occasion, do some all important gutt-sucking in!
Eric Blakely took to the water after becoming bored with road running and wanting to change up his daily dose of physical exercise. "I like the fact that you can't give up half way, as I have been known to take the bus back when out for a run!" Enjoying the Island's waters so much, Eric found himself training for a cross Channel swim and once he had achieved this feat, the swimming challenges just kept on rolling in. "Whilst not always advisable, I do prefer a solitary swim to clear my head and focus on goals." Eric can now be found at a variety of bays on most weekends as he attempts to become acclimatised to winter water temperatures for his next adventure, an Ireland to Scotland swim!
The Jersey Recovery College will be running new sea swimming courses in May and September this year as well as yoga classes and many more. Find out more about participation here.