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Hawke’s Bay children get FREE access to learn to swim/water safety programme

A year-long water safety and learn to swim pilot programme created by the Hawke’s Bay Community Fitness Centre Trust and funded by Royston Health Trust will save lives and improve health and wellbeing outcomes.

HBCFCT Commercial and Partnerships Manager Greg Howie said 6000 primary school students aged from 5 years to 13 years will get free access to the Royston Health Trust School Learn to Swim and Water Safety programme.

HBCFCT has developed a unique programme that combines learn to swim with water safety skills.

“Our research has found that there’s a significant gap and therefore a risk of life by not teaching broader water safety skills at the same time as learning to swim.

“We know that many children get taught to swim in a pool to varying confidence levels but aren’t taught the risks of swimming, especially in open waters such as the sea, rivers and lakes, all of which Hawke’s Bay is renowned for,” Greg said.

New Zealand has a high fatal drowning rate compared to other Western nations such as Australia, Canada and the UK. For the past ten years New Zealand’s rate has been 1.7 per 100,000 of population and in 2020 is 1.62. In comparison, Australia’s per capita rate is 1.1 and Canada’s 1.3.

In 2021 there was 90 recreational (intending to be in the water) and non-recreational (no intention of being in the water) preventable drowning fatalities nationally and six in Hawke’s Bay. This summer has also been marred by tragic drownings.

“This is a ground-breaking programme that undoubtably will save lives and we are thrilled that Royston Health Trust is keen to partner with us to ensure that as many children as possible get access to the programme at no cost.”

Mr Howie said primary and intermediate schools across Hawke’s Bay have been invited to participate with the first intake at the Hawke’s Bay Regional Aquatic Centre in Hastings which starts in the first school term. Already over 3000 students are enrolled.

HBCFCT Swim School Manager Harshi Dassanayake said the pilot programme provides peace of mind for parents and will teach children to understand risks with swimming in open water.

Children will receive eight lessons over eight weeks with a focus on being comfortable underwater, floating independently along with basic front and back stroke techniques.

All students will receive a National Water Safety Achievement Certificate and students starting the programme in Year 3 will get an achievement for five years up to year 8. It is hoped that the one-year pilot project will become a multi-year programme.

“They learn different arm strokes, and are taught how to keep themselves and others safe in and around water. Drowning is a significant issue in New Zealand and if we can help get kids used to water and teach them skills to keep themselves safe, it helps to reduce the risk. It’s all about making sure our tamariki are safe,” she said.

Royston Health Trust chair Jacqui Gray said the programme is an important investment that will save lives now as children but also as they grow into adults. Royston Health Trust is contributing up to $400,000 to the pilot programme.

“Being able to swim and be safe in water are important life skills that lead to better health outcomes as well as preventing drownings. Swimming is also a fun recreational activity and a rewarding sport with great health benefits and assisting our school children to learn to participate safely is important for our community.

“By making learn to swim and water safety free, it ensures that families that struggle to afford learn to swim classes for their children now have free access,” Jacqui said.

Schools are asked to enrol by emailing a registration of interest to contact Ally Hislop