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Ethnic minority women dive into swimming lessons

About 70 women from ethnic minority groups in Edinburgh have learned how to swim, thanks to lessons delivered by pupils at Forrester High.

The classes have also been credited with breaking down barriers between the white teenagers and their adult pupils.

The lessons began after the school - a Glasgow 2014 community sports hub - was approached by a west Edinburgh charity serving minority ethnic communities, SCOREscotland.

The charity had identified a desire among local black and minority ethnic women to swim. However, because the majority were Muslim, they found it difficult to access public pools where there was a lack of women-only sessions, spectator galleries were open to the public and strict regulations in place surrounding swimwear.

Forrester High was able to be flexible about swimwear and could provide an all-female staff in the form of three senior pupils, who had trained as swimming instructors, and Claire Rankin, an experienced instructor from Hearts Swimming Club.

The school's pool, meanwhile, had no viewing gallery and high windows.

Gael Logan is now Glasgow 2014 legacy manager but set up the classes in her previous role as an Active Schools manager in Edinburgh.

She said: "It was a big learning curve for us. Initially some of the women turned up in long gowns for the lessons. We had to find something they were comfortable wearing but that would allow them to swim."

Leggings with long sleeved tops and a swimming costume underneath were a solution for some.

Ms Logan continued: "The girls worked closely with the women, which broke down barriers in terms of their perceptions of these communities. But it also changed the perceptions the women had of them as young white females. They came to the poolside in short shorts with their make-up on and taught them to swim and kept them safe. It was an education programme for both sides."

The programme began in 2010 and runs on Friday afternoons, when Edinburgh schools are closed.

The pupils led the classes as unpaid volunteers in exchange for the training they received for the first session. They were then paid by sportscotland for their work in the following two terms.

The original group of girls has now left school but the lessons continue, run by a new group of pupils.

SCOREscotland manager Nabirye Balyejusa said: "The fact these young people leave their classrooms where they have been getting theories about how to teach someone to swim and walk straight into a ready-made group to practise what they have learned is fantastic. It's also great that they are getting access to a group that under normal circumstances would be out of their reach."

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