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Swim For Life Tairawhiti

STUDENT numbers accessing the Pak’nSave Swim For Life Tairawhiti water skills and safety programme have increased since its launch in 2015.

The Gisborne community banded together to set up the trust after the Sealord Swim for Life initiative was discontinued in 2014.

Swim for Life Tairawhiti now delivers swim and survival education programmes to primary school children across the district, with the main aim of developing competence and confidence in and around water.

Trust manager Carl Newman said the programme has continued to grow, with 3100 students registered this year compared with 2800 in 2017 and 2500 in 2016.

It is provided to 34 schools from Matawai to Hicks Bay, with some schools on a waitlist.

“Water Safety New Zealand statistics show that, nationally, around half of all 10-year-olds can't swim 25 metres and 25 percent of these can't keep afloat while in the water,” Mr Newman said.

“This indicates there is a real need to intervene and address the issue of children’s swimming ability.”

The trust contracts Comet Swimming Club and Martin Swim School to deliver the programme, and uses various pools.

New poolside signs have been introduced as another method to communicate more effectively to younger students.

The signs provide a visual component to the practical aspect of the programme.

Traditionally, schools were recognised as the primary venue for students learning to swim. This can no longer be presumed as fewer pools are being built and existing pools are not being renewed due to high operational costs.

In 2014, Gisborne had the fourth highest drowning rate in New Zealand.

“Due to the vast amounts of ocean and rivers within our region, it is very important that our young people have the skills to enjoy these while also keeping themselves safe,” Mr Newman said.

Despite committed and generous community groups supporting the trust, Mr Newman said it continued to run a tight ship and its year-to-year operation is dependent on funding.

At a cost of $40 a student and with an increase in enrolments, Mr Newman is appreciative of all the support the trust can access.

Funding and support is provided by Pak‘nSave, Sunrise Foundation, Gisborne District Council, Eastern and Central Community Trust, Eastland Community Trust, Water Safety New Zealand, New Zealand Community Trust, Infinity Foundation and Abercorn Charitable Trust.

New Zealand continues to have one of the higher drowning rates across all age groups in the OECD.

Swim for Life Tairawhiti Comet instructor Lucy Goss with Emma Menzies and Dylan Ng. Picture by Rebecca Grunwell