8 March 2024

Kiama Council sees surge in demand for swim schools as need grows

| Keeli Royle
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Kid in pool learning to swim.

Swimming lessons are in high demand as a new report on drownings reveals the devastation of the summer. Photo: Envanto/OlhaRomaniuk.

The demand for swimming lessons at Kiama’s Leisure Centre has surged, leaving many parents on waiting lists, with their children unable to access the vital classes.

More than 1350 children are already enrolled in the programs operated by Kiama Municipal Council, with council’s director of planning, environment and communities Jessica Rippon attributing the rise to demographic changes, quality facilities and a statewide trend.

“It’s also certainly reflecting the growing number of young families in our area but I think it’s also a demand more broadly across NSW for increased interest in swim schools,” Ms Rippon said.

“We’ve always been very popular and there’s always very long waiting lists for our swimming lessons but I’m certainly seeing that there is increased interest and I think that’s because they’re really keen for children to have confidence and be safe in and around water.”

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Although there are some vacancies, such as in the older children’s squad, which has just been boosted by a new swim coach, the team are looking to make some changes to make the service more accessible. They are also partnering with organisations such as AUSTSWIM, Royal Life Saving NSW and Swim Australia to recruit more staff and help connect participants with other services.

“We’re really trying to streamline a lot of our services,” Ms Rippon said. “Looking at online enrollment systems, looking at providing some improvements to some of our programs and also looking at our student to instructor ratio because it’s really essential that the quality of lessons remains and that the service that people are being provided is positive.”

But while learning the basics of swim safety is important, Ms Rippon said there were other organisations in the area that complemented the classes and expanded on the vital skills taught.

“It’s almost a tradition for people in Kiama to join nippers to learn about both water safety and also surf safety as well as learning to swim,” Ms Rippon said.

“It’s essential that we encourage people to learn and understand the water and be able to be in it and enjoy it safely, both in our pools, our ocean pools and our beach – so whilst we have swimming lessons at our leisure centre we also have a lot of active surf clubs up and down our coastline and very large numbers of nippers.”

The surge in demand comes as The Royal Life Saving Summer Drowning Toll revealed an increase in drownings of 10 per cent compared to the previous year, with 99 people losing their lives in waterways across the country between 1 December 2023 and 29 February 2024.

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NSW recorded the highest number and 10 per cent of all deaths were children 14 or younger.

And while deaths recorded in swimming pools dropped from 11 per cent to 5 per cent, beaches accounted for 43 per cent of drownings.

This last figure is particularly alarming for towns like Kiama – the coastline being a key part of the culture for both locals and visitors.

“Being able to swim is an essential skill for every Australian and certainly if you live on the coast or near water, being able to swim is just a lifelong skill to have and it’s essential that children have that experience,” Ms Rippon said. “It’s fun, it builds confidence and resilience and I think it’s something that every child should have the opportunity to participate in at some stage in their life.”

The NSW Government has convened a ‘Coastal Water Safety Roundtable’ along with a range of peak water safety bodies to reflect on the drownings over the summer and discuss how to keep beachgoers safer in the future.

To find out more about the swim lessons and facilities at Kiama Leisure Centre, or to see availabilities in classes, visit the website.

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