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‘If you go swimming in the snow you’re going to remember it forever’

Whilst many residents of the coast would shy away from the sea during the harsh winter months, one group of locals in Whitstable are taking full advantage all year round.

Founded by Imogen Tinkler in November 2020, open water swimming club The Whitstable Bubbletit Bluetits is a group encouraging people of all ages and abilities to head down to the shore and revel in the benefits that the sea provides.

Little did I know how great this community was.

Whilst some people join the group just for swimming, the group is also open to those just wanting to dip their toes in the water whilst sharing a flask of coffee or a slice of cake.

An informal organisation that uses a Facebook channel to share details about upcoming swims or seaside events, The Bubbletits have racked up quite the following with over 2,000 people linked to their online profile. One follower includes Whitstable resident Doda Panayiotou John-Baptist.

Having moved from North London down to Whitstable, she took her first swim with the group in April 2021.

Hoping to wash away the stresses of daily life and find effective relief from her joint pain, the city resident turned beach-goer found this group to be the perfect solution.

Doda and Maureen enjoying the sea (Image provided by Doda Panayiotou John-Baptist)

Looking back on her experience with the club, she commented: “It gave me a way in with local people as a newbie to the area. Little did I know how great this community was and how many wonderful friends I would have made.”

Doda found that the support from those around her was what kept her coming back, as with every swim her pain lessened and body confidence grew.

Swimming in the sea provides a whole host of benefits including boosting the immune system, improving circulation and releasing endorphins that increase mood and lower stress. If you aren’t one for getting in the water, the sea air is also a natural healer as it has been proven to improve lung function and calm the mind.

The organisation, which is free to join, isn’t only engaging with people from Whitstable.

When Jacky Howgate left Victoria, Australia to visit friends in the UK, she rekindled the sense of belonging and wellbeing that she had back home in her own swim group, named the Mornington Morning Mermaids, where she taught women how to swim amongst the Aussie dolphins.

Though the water was a chilling total of 3C, there was no stopping Jacky as she joined the Bubbletits group for a few dips.

She stated: “We all had hot drinks and hot water bottles to warm us up, it was fantastic.”

Whilst Jacky is now back in Australia, the impact of the Kent-based swimming group has been long lasting.

“I’ve met so many wonderful people since I started and it has literally changed my life. I can’t wait to go back to meet the Bubbletits again.”

Speaking on the Active Kent & Medway website, founder Imogen commented: “The benefits of the swimming sessions are huge and it really builds confidence.

“When you strip down and you’ve got no makeup on, you’re just in your swimming costume or wetsuit — everyone is equal.

“You build bonds very quickly and you’re doing something that is pushing your limits; if you’re going swimming in the snow you’re going to remember that forever.”

Whilst Imogen encourages members to have fun and be themselves, she also stresses the importance of safety when swimming in open waters.

If you are looking to get involved, remember to learn about tidal movements that can be monitored by offshore flags. Wearing brightly coloured swimwear ensures that you can be seen by others, and bringing a change of warm, dry clothes to wear afterwards can ward off any unwanted side effects from being out in the cold.

The Bubbletits head to the sea no matter the weather (Image provided by Doda Panayiotou John- Baptist) 

The group was undoubtedly affected by sewage pollution that has been released into Kent waters, but with the use of tracking apps they have been able to swim safely when levels are low.

From building body confidence, teaching new skills and creating a community of shoulders to lean on, it is clear this seaside group offers much more to people than a place to swim.

To those looking to get involved but still feel a little unsure, Doda reiterated to beginners that: “You never regret going but you do regret not going for a dip.”

If you’re ready to feel energised and connect once again with your mind and body as well as meet new people, why not grab your wetsuit and head to the shore?

You can get involved by visiting The Whitstable Bubbletits Facebook page.