I’ve always loved the sea. I grew up in Cornwall and my grandparents, who we’d stay with several times a year, lived along the coast of the Gower peninsula, in Wales. I felt lucky, spending summer weekends by the beach and winter months on coastal walks along some of the most awe-inspiring scenery in Britain.
But I didn’t just love looking out to sea, I loved being in it too. I didn’t think about it too much back then, it was just the way it was and I assumed everyone felt the same. My Dad would take me to the beach and teach me how to dive into the oncoming waves, respecting but enjoying the power of the ocean along Cornwall’s Atlantic coast. And as I grew older, I continued to gravitate to the coast. My university choice was Bournemouth, lying on the equally beautiful, but rather busier, Dorset coastline. And then a few years later, life led me to live on a big freshwater lake – Garda, in Northern Italy.
Water is in my blood, there’s no doubt about it. Anything to do with swimming in the sea, lake, or a river excites me. I love vintage sea bathing scenes depicted in posters and photography. I love the recent surge in refurbing old worn out lidos. Locations which tap into this culture call out to me. Margate is one, playing host to a beautiful brand called Haekels which uses sustainable methods to gather seaweed to produce wonderful natural skincare. I adored their Kickstarter campaign to build an old-fashioned sea bathing machine –those incredible looking huts-on-wheels that Victorian ladies used to get changed in. Haekels is the perfect example of a beautiful business built on ethics and driven by a passion for the sea.
Selsey comes a-calling
So, it’s always struck me as odd that I’m usually the only one taking a dip at Selsey. I wake up and look out to sea – the sparkling water, little fishing boats bobbing up and down and an incredible view of the Isle of Wight just makes me want to dive right in. The views are to die for, but on top of that, Selsey is flanked by not one, but two RSPB nature reserves. The sea is generally pretty swimmable – if West Beach is too rough, there is always East Beach. In a relatively small area, we’re totally spoilt for choice.
Difficult times lead to beautiful things
And so last November, and by this time back in the sea, an idea began to take shape.
I wanted to create a small society for people who are passionate about the sea but have either stopped swimming because they don’t enjoy going in alone, or those who had lost their confidence, or those who just felt the need for a bit of encouragement. The idea began with celebrating the environment, but at the heart of it all actually lay community. What I’ve realised it that it’s in sharing a love of the sea where joy truly manifests itself.
And then one day, by chance, I saw an article in the local paper advertising for people to come forward with ideas to win funding from the local council for projects which benefitted the local community. Bingo. This would give me the structure I needed to get my idea off the starting block. But there was a problem – there was one day to go until the closing date and I was off on holiday the following morning.
When fate takes over
Marketing and more PR began at that point. Planning and designing flyers to put all around the town. Dropping them into any high street shop that would support us, chatting to locals, writing for the local magazine, giving talks to the local WI groups, visiting the Town Council and readily offering support for their existing initiatives. And of course, building the website, blog and Instagram pages.
Why it means so much to me
In the winter months, for the first time ever, I’ve personally decided to try and keep bathing going throughout the year. This wouldn’t have happened without the enthusiasm of others in the group and I’m sure our mental, as well as physical health, will benefit as a result. But for those who understandably find that a bit much, we’re arranging talks and walks and sea-related film showings to keep the community thriving throughout the winter months.
Why community is so important
Yet this little community, which continues to flourish on simplicity, seems to me a brief shelter from the world. It’s a genuine and authentic place because of that simplicity. Right from the outset the Selsey Sea Bathing Society has attracted the most wonderful people. People with an open, warm and encouraging mindset. We gather for ourselves, for what we each personally need, but in equal measure we are also there for each other – which is exactly the way it should be. People arrive with new ideas, with a smile and above all they arrive with warmth.
I ask myself sometimes, maybe I should do more? Push this further and reach out more. But the answer comes back as no, it’s just not necessary. I’ve spent my life pushing, doing, striving, yearning to do things better and achieve more. What I love about it, is that it bobs along in its own momentum, just like we do in the sea together. Content in itself, content that it is doing all that it should, and that, is enough.
Oh, and the lessons that offers us all! In that elegantly simple approach, we learn the secret of life. In it, we take respite from the relentless treadmill of competition and consumption and instead, if just for a few hours, we experience a life that puts ecological integrity, social equity and personal tranquillity and happiness at the centre of everything. And what could be better than that?
Selsey Sea Bathing Society https://www.selseyseabathingsociety.com/
Spacehive – funding platform for ideas that bring local places to life https://www.spacehive.com/
Haekels Sea Bathing Machine https://haeckels.co.uk/journal/kickstarting-a-bathing-machine/
Seas The Day https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=iT6xdZH41DI
Selsey Marine Conservation Zone May 2019 chrome-extension://gphandlahdpffmccakmbngmbjnjiiahp/https://assets.publishing.service.gov.uk/government/uploads/system/uploads/attachment_data/file/805542/mcz-selsey-bill-2019.pdf