Free swim classes and advice launched in memory of Ryan Evans

Stoke-on-Trent children taking part in this year's Swim Safer campaign at Fenton Manor Sports Complex

A water safety campaign is being launched on the first anniversary of the tragic death of 13-year-old Ryan Evans at Westport Lake.

The 13-year-old Haywood Academy student's body was found in the water in June 2018, after he was seen getting into difficulty at the beauty spot.

The Swim Safer scheme, which aims to keep young people safe when swimming during the summer holidays, is being backed by Ryan’s father, Glynn Evans.

Stoke-on-Trent City Council say it will be the biggest ever water safety campaign of its kind in the city, and places on the free lessons are expected to be taken up quickly, with swimming pools filled to capacity.

The project includes:

  • 910 free learn to swim lessons for non-swimmers aged between six and 14 years old.
  • 420 free water safety sessions for swimmers aged between eight and 14.
  • Children will have the opportunity to gain distance/achievement badges and receive information about further council-run swimming assessments.

Glynn Evans said: “I would like to thank everybody for honouring the memory of my dear son, who tragically lost his life at the age of 13.

“Ryan got into difficulty swimming in the open water last year at Westport Lake. In light of this terrible event, the Swim Safer campaign has been launched and is aiming to help hundreds of children to take advantage of knowing the danger of open waters.

“If Swim Safer can save at least one child’s life and stops any other parents from getting that dreaded knock on the door like we did, then Ryan’s life was not lost in vain.”

Ryan Evans photo left amongst tributes at Westport Lake following his death in June 2018 

Swim Safer is a partnership between Stoke-on-Trent City Council, Staffordshire Fire and Rescue Service, Staffordshire Police, The Sentinel and StokeonTrentLive, and the Royal Life Saving Society UK.

The project follows the first campaign in 2018 which offered hundreds of free places on water safety training classes, as well as free classes at Fenton Manor Sports Complex for children of all swimming levels.

City Council Leader Councillor Abi Brown said: “Ryan’s incredibly tragic death was something that left our city numb and with a deep sense of loss.

"As a parent, I cannot begin to understand what his family went through and I’d like to pay tribute to their courage and thank them for supporting Swim Safer during this extremely difficult time.

“We want to do our very best to honour Ryan’s memory and we hope that this campaign can help to do that. The activities at our leisure centres are something that will encourage children to learn vital, life-saving information that will stay with them for the rest of their lives.

“Last year’s campaign was a huge success and all of the sessions were taken up very quickly. We’ve responded to demand and this year we’re staging even more lessons, with our pool filled to capacity.

"It will be the biggest campaign of its kind ever in Stoke-on-Trent and we hope families across the city will take advantage of the opportunity.

"Water safety is one of our top priorities and we will keep working to ensure children in the city are able to swim safer.”

Tributes were laid at Westport Lake following the death of Ryan Evans

The free learn to swim sessions are for non-swimmers aged six to 14 years old. They will cover five days, from Monday to Friday, with each session lasting 30 minutes.

Lessons will take place at Fenton Manor Sports Complex and New Horizons Leisure Centre on the weeks starting July 22, 29, and August 5, 12, 19 and 25. Advanced booking is required.

The free water safety sessions are for swimmers aged eight to 14. They will run from 4pm to 5pm on Sundays July 21 and 28, August 4, 11, 19 and 25, and September 1 at Fenton Manor Sports Complex. Advanced booking is required and each child can attend one session.

Learn to swim resources will also be made available in the reception areas of all six city council-run leisure centres.

Staffordshire Fire and Rescue Service Northern Service Delivery Lead and Group Manager Brian Moss said: “We are really pleased to be partnering up again this year to support the Swim Safer sessions, visit schools and address water safety throughout Stoke-on-Trent.

"It is really important to us to prevent incidents like the tragedy at Westport Lake, where Ryan lost his life, from happening.

“Last year Ryan’s passing shook the community and we are committed to ensuring children and young people are safe when it comes to water.

"Teaching children how to swim safely and what to do in case of an emergency is essential to preventing the worst from happening.

“We cannot thank Glynn Evans enough for supporting this campaign and sharing his story at what is understandably a difficult time for him and his loved ones.”

Laurence Hickin, the Royal Life Saving Society UK’s Community Drowning Prevention Co-ordinator for West and Wales, said: “It’s great to see the Swim Safer campaign return this year and is a testament to Stoke-on-Trent City Council’s dedication to drowning prevention activity. 

“Learning to swim is more than just good fun, it’s a vital life-saving skill. With the summer holidays on the horizon, being able to swim and knowing how to keep yourself safe in the water means everyone can have fun in the water this summer, at home or abroad. 

“Be each other’s lifeguards, stick together, stay out of unsupervised bodies of water and know what to do in an emergency – easy steps to keep you and yours water safe this year.” 

Bookings for all sessions can be made from Thursday, June 27, by emailing swimsafer@stoke.gov.uk or calling 01782 236210. 

The phone line will be staffed from 9am to 5pm, Monday to Friday – a Council spokesperson says that outside of these hours to please leave a voicemail and a member of staff will contact you on the next working day. 

The sessions are expected to be extremely popular and places will be allocated on a first-come, first-served basis. 

Swim Safer follows a recent, separate city council project to support national Drowning Prevention Week, which saw the Stoke-on-Trent authority deliver water safety assemblies to more than 7,000 school pupils, as well as water safety lessons for more than 3,800 children on its education and after-school swim programmes. 

Sign-ups for the City Council’s next round of paid-for swimming lessons will start on August 25. The authority’s leisure centres also offer general paid-for swimming sessions and day passes. For more information, visit stoke.gov.uk/leisure.

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