I signed up to volunteer with Durham Otters at the Freshers’ Fair three years ago when i first arrived at Durham, and have rarely missed a session since. I honestly can’t think of a better way to spend a Monday evening! Durham Otters, is a club for anyone who finds public swimming sessions unsuitable, and offers the opportunity to learn to swim and enjoy being in the water to people of all ages, with a range of health issues from muscular problems, back problems, limited sight, learning difficulties, wheelchair user, etc. The pool is about 4 feet deep everywhere (just over waist high on most adults), with easy access and a hoist to allow everyone to feel comfortable and have access to the pool. As a helper in the water, it’s my role to give support, teach people to swim or just to give confidence and have fun.
Durham Otters has introduced me to a fantastic group of people – service users and volunteers alike. Having volunteered with the project for the entirety of my university experience, I have had the time to build up an excellent rapport with the service users, and genuinely look forward to seeing them every week to find out what they’ve been up to.
My most memorable experience was when one service user called me over to the opposite side of the pool, just so I would guide him up and down some lengths, a responsibility I had not undertaken before. Not only has engaging with service users helped me to become more confident, but it is also great to see their confidence develop. As one service user said, “It’s been really good – everyone’s been really friendly.”
Fun in the pool
Our weekly sessions certainly demand quick-thinking – our younger service users, in particular, like to be kept entertained! From devising underwater obstacle courses, to new forms of float races, or classics like playing piggy-in-the-middle, there’s always fun to be had in the pool and we encourage creativity and taking part. As a fellow volunteer commented, “Even though my team didn’t win the volleyball, I still think Team Peas in a Pod was best”. Personally, I have completely run out of ‘Mario’ characters for our gaming-themed races… We often end the session with a friendly game of volley ball which is a great opportunity to bring everyone together and get everyone involved.
Leading the project
Taking on the role of Project Leader for the past two years has also brought with it increased responsibilities and opportunities. I have been in charge of advertising the project to new students at Freshers’ Fairs, organising new volunteers, and actually getting them to turn up at the right time in the right place! This role has certainly improved my time organisation, leadership and management skills, as well as providing me with greater opportunities to give something back to Durham Otters. For example, we held a cake sale in aid of the group, which helped to raise funds to keep this fabulous project going. Alongside our swimming sessions, this year we attended a party in a local church hall to celebrate one service user’s 60th birthday, which was a great opportunity for singing, dancing, cake-eating and general merriment.
I like to think Durham University volunteers have had a positive impact on Durham Otters. According to one organiser for the group, “University students are always an important part of the running of Otters. This year they have been even more consistent than ever before.” I was particularly touched when the group moved the AGM this year into term time specifically so that we could attend the meal out. Durham Otters has been a massive part of my time at University, and I only hope the group continues to provide such fabulous opportunities for those who find normal swimming lessons unsuitable to get in the pool and have some fun!
Find out more about Durham Otters and all the other projects Durham students work with through Student Community Action.
Read more form student bloggers who volunteer and find out about the range of projects you could get involved with.