Splish Splash – Invercargill Learn to Swim Programme making waves

Splash Palace’s Learn to Swim Programme is setting the standard for swimming education nationwide. This long-running initiative is the envy of many regions and significantly impacts the Invercargill community.

On a busy May morning, we visited Splash Palace to witness the action firsthand. Aquatic Services Manager Steve Cook mentioned that the pool typically sees around 1,000 visitors at this time of year, with numbers doubling during water polo sessions.

Steve Cook takes great pride in the programme offered at Splash Palace. “It’s one of the best models in the country, a true example of community partnership benefiting the children of Invercargill,” he says.

This year, ILT Group approved $182,500 in funding, covering transport, pool hire, teaching expenses, and equipment. Together with Invercargill City Council and Splash Palace, who take care of the entry, this programme ensures swimming lessons for all Invercargill-based primary school children, equalling an impressive 40,113 pool admissions.

This collaboration has a long history. A $1.5 million grant in 2004 contributed to the construction of a learner’s pool at Splash Palace, followed by annual funding for the programme since its inception around 2007/2008.

“This programme is hugely important for our community, benefiting our kids in so many ways. Not only is it equipping them with the skills to swim, but it’s also developing their self-confidence and self-esteem,” Cook said.

ILT president Paddy O’Brien shares this sentiment.

“We know how crucial it is for children to learn water skills early in life. For some students, this is the only swimming education they’ll receive. We’re incredibly proud to have been long time supporters,” he said.

The programme targets primary school children between the ages of 7-12, providing them with 8-10 lessons each. While specific data on the programme saving lives is unavailable, Water Safety NZ statistics indicate its significance, with Southland children having some of the best improvement in swimming abilities nationwide.

“Plus, the kids love it, you can hear the excitement as buses pull up, they fill the changing room and head out for their lesson. For some, it’s the highlight of their week and our team loves it too!” Cook adds.

Steve and his team are working to grow the programme during the quieter months and are collaborating with schools around the region to offer boat safety training. This provides students across Southland access to equipment and the deep water at Splash Palace.

With 29 schools participating the logistics can be challenging, but Cook notes, “We all work together – schools, bus provider and our team. It really is a community effort.”