Having grown up as a competitive swimmer, Seren is passionate about passing on her love of water to others. She became one of the four founders of the Black Swimming Association (BSA) an organisation which caters to all levels of swimmers, working to break down barriers that stand between African, Caribbean and Asian communities and aquatics – enabling a deeper connection to nature in her community.
Strength In Water
5 min read
Written by Seren Jones
Images by Karl Mackie
What does "the right to roam" mean to you?
For me, the ‘Right to Roam’ means having the freedom and agency to go wherever you want, whenever you want to go, knowing that the experience will enhance your physical health, your mental health, and help to make you a better version of yourself. It also means that there are no barriers obstructing you from reaching your desired destination, whether that’s geographical barriers, physical barriers, mental or legal barriers.
How do you exercise your right to roam in your life already?
In terms of my own right to roam and the places where I go already, as much as I love London and love the city, it can get extremely hectic at times, so I exercise my right to roam as a form of escapism. I live right by Hackney Marshes and the Leigh Valley, so I’m spoiled by the luxury of roaming in green and blue spaces which are far enough away from the chaos of the capital, but also still very much part of the city. Running through the marshes with my earphones is just the best feeling. It’s peaceful. It’s quiet. It allows me to come back to my roots and to reset.
What do you do in your work with the Black Swimming Association, and is there a motivation to pass on this ability to roam to others?
What we do at the Black Swimming Association is ensure that people from African, Caribbean and Asian backgrounds have a safe, quality experience in and around all bodies of water. The four of us who are co-founders started the charity in March 2020, just before the pandemic. The things we had in common were our Blackness and our love for the world of aquatics, but we all felt as though aquatics wasn’t catering for people who looked like us. We’d all had different journeys – from elite swimming to learning how to swim, to swim parents – and the representation isn’t there. The structures aren’t in place to encourage people who look like us to feel like they belong in that space. So we started the BSA to change that.
Not only are we encouraging people to get in the water, to pick up a hobby, get healthier and reap the many benefits that swimming has to offer, but I feel like we’re opening up this world to people who never thought it was an option for them.
How does it feel to connect to the land and water for you?
Whenever I access these spaces, it puts everything into perspective for me. It reminds me that I’m a tiny person in a humungous green space or body of water, and it humbles me. When I’m connected to these spaces, especially water, I feel like nothing else matters. I can enter water with all of my problems, all of my worries, all of my concerns, and then I’m able to shed them away. When I leave the water, it’s almost like a reset, because I feel at peace with all my uncertainties.
What has it been like coming back to Hackney, and what connection do you feel to the community, culture and history of this place?
Despite growing up in Cardiff I was born in Hackney and spent the first few years of my life in the borough. Now, more than 20 years on, I’ve found myself back in the place where it all began, so it feels really right. My roots are here, my parents got married here, there’s a lot of African history here, and now the BSA is working with Hackney council to conduct our swim clinics next year. So it’s come full circle and I feel like I can’t tell my story, or my parent’s story, without Hackney. And now the BSA is also wedded to the area and has a story which is linked to the borough. When we look back at its legacy in 10, 20, 30 years’ time, we wouldn’t be able to tell the story of the BSA without Hackney, so it’s a really special place.