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Each year, GLL, the charitable social enterprise and leading leisure provider, celebrate the outstanding achievements of the 14,000+ workforce with both individuals and teams recognised across 23 award categories. This year’s GLL Awards Dinner was hosted at the Hackney Town Hall on Thursday 7th February with special guest presenters, TV’s Ayo Akinwolere and Team GB Paralympian Swimmer, Ellie Simmonds.


Given GLL’s social enterprise status and development of programmes benefiting local communities, the Nick Francis Community Award can be considered one of the most prestigious honours. The Nick Francis Community Award is presented to an individual or team that has made a major impact on improving the lives of local people and communities, and no one embodies this more so than Rhys Smith, Lambeth Swimming Teacher.


Rhys is the swimming teacher who leads the Supported Swimming sessions at Clapham Leisure Centre for disabled persons with a long-term health condition or visual or mobility impairments. The two-hour sessions, Thursdays 12:00-14:00, developed in partnership with South East London Vision (SELVIS) and Disability Advice Service Lambeth (DASL), have occurred each week after the initial launch in October 2017. Rhys had previously worked in close partnership with GLL on various projects across the partnership and showed a desire to work with those less fortunate in Clapham, becoming the key driver in the success of the project.


The project aim was to provide an opportunity for those with a disability to engage in sport and physical activity, whilst simultaneously accessing specialised swimming instruction to improve their water skills. Rhys not only provides instruction on how to improve their swimming ability and gain confidence in the water, but he also fosters a supportive environment in which the participants receive support off each other, adding a social aspect to the project. He also continuously looks to make changes that will benefit the programme’s success, whether large or small. This includes using the two lanes nearest the changing rooms and Pool Pod, liaising with management to enable a participant’s Guide Dog to sit in the main office during the sessions, and working with partners to identify funding to upskill volunteers and access CPD training. As such, Rhys’ approach to the sessions has been invaluable in participant recruitment and retention.


Rhys has opened up a unique opportunity for those less restricted and less willing to partake in swimming. To date, the project has recorded an estimated usage of over 600. This high and regular attendance has helped many participants improve their swimming ability as well as note health and social benefits. Some have subsequently continued their water journey by booking one-to-one swimming lessons, attending water workouts, or swimming on their own.


The project has had some wonderful feedback from users who would never have been able to swim but for this project.

“Looking back on my first day, I could not have imagined that I'd be able to do what I do now. Had it not been [Rhys], pushing me to keep trying, I would have given up a long time ago. My aim is now to become a good swimmer (not join the Paralympics) and learn to dive. Thank you ever so much for giving me confidence, motivation and most of all, for believing in me and teaching me to swim.”

“Rhys was amazing. I felt totally at ease and now feel confident I can take Leo swimming in regular classes - something I didn’t feel comfortable with before the session. Rhys was patient, kind and fun. We couldn’t have had a better experience! Thank you so much for organising.”


Unfortunately, Rhys was not able to attend the Awards Evening and so Clapham Leisure Centre hosted a surprise award ceremony poolside during one of the Supported Swimming sessions. He was presented his award by Jeremy Lake (Lambeth Partnership Manager), Sue Robinson (Lambeth Community Sports Manager), Ashton Rennie (Clapham Leisure Centre General Manager), and Alexandra Bamford (Clapham Leisure Centre Assistant Manager).


Rhys commented, “I’m very proud to have received the Nick Francis Community Award because it underlines the need to include everyone in Better facilities no matter what their support needs. The Supported Swimming Group at Clapham Leisure Centre is a model for this type of inclusive offer I believe and could be replicated across all sites.”


DASL Officer, Abigail Tripp, also highlighted Rhys’ involvement, “Right from the start Rhys has been amazing to work with to develop this group. [The project] could not have done [it] without him. What started as an idea and a few people, some disabled, asking for help with swimming has grown into a hugely popular group.”


At the Awards Dinner, Lorraine Patrinos, Associate Director of Learning and Organisational Development, said: “It was an absolute pleasure to hear about our inspirational finalists at the Awards dinner. These awards recognise and celebrate the people who make a difference to their colleagues and enrich the lives of our customers because of their passion, work ethic and belief in our values as a social enterprise. I am so proud of all of the finalists. They are the magic ingredient of GLL’s success.”


The Community Sports Team in Lambeth continuously improve the offer and service for disabled persons and discussions are ongoing about a similar session at Streatham Ice and Leisure Centre. A full list of our accessible and inclusive sessions across the borough can be found below:

Please click the activity title for more information about the accessible session or download the full programme below.