New film released about Swanage’s sea swimmers

The women who swim throughout the year in Swanage Bay, star in a newly released short film which follows them as they prepare to plunge into the world of theatre performance.

The 11 minute atmospheric and at times, emotional documentary goes behind the scenes of the successful live event called SW!M in June 2022 at The Mowlem which was followed by dancing on the beach and in the sea.

Rehearsal of SW!M on Swanage Beach
Rehearsal of SW!M on Swanage Beach

Steven Lake and his camera crew filming the rehearsal for the show on the eve of the performance

Directed by Wareham filmmaker Steven Lake

The film Swim Club directed by Steve Lake, is by the theatre company Diverse City in collaboration with The Mowlem and commissioned by arts organisation The Space.

It explores the community, camaraderie and vulnerability of the close-knit group of sea swimmers as they get ready to perform, many for the first time ever, in front of an audience.

The film’s director Steve Lake comes from Wareham and is acclaimed for his work, which has taken him all over the world. He was invited to document the event by SW!M’s co-directors Claire Hodgson and Deborah Paige.

Steven Lake
Steven Lake

Filmmaker Steven Lake comes from Wareham

“Depth of the bond between the women”

Steven Lake said:

“I had worked with Claire before and she knew that I was a keen freshwater swimmer – I love being outside in the elements, especially in cold water, so it was an amazing chance to get involved.

“When it came to the filming, I hadn’t realised the depth of the bond between the women. I’ve been a member of many sports clubs and the relationships are strong but mainly centred around the activity.

“With the Swanage swimming group there’s a real closeness, where they chat about what’s going on in their lives. It’s community in its purest sense.

“The film is about the performance but it’s also about the women’s amazing stories and what’s going on underneath the surface. It’s a celebration of who they are – all different body types – but not like a Dove deodorant advert!

“The aim was to bring out their subtle beauty. There’s also the subtext of an environmental element to the film – the swimmers are custodians of the sea.”

SW!M performance in The Mowlem
SW!M show performance on Swanage Beach
SW!M performance on Swanage Beach
LIz Craig

A successful show on The Mowlem stage, on the beach and in the sea

Perfect summer’s evening

In the documentary there’s plenty of opportunity to spot local people among the swimmers and those in the audience on the night of the SW!M performance, all crowded along the seafront on a perfect summer’s evening to watch the event.

The show was a sellout success and the crowd joined in clapping and cheering the women as they danced on the sand and in the sea.

Wild swimming in the sea in Swanage
Millie Haines
Wild swimming in the sea in Swanage
Millie Haines

Local photographer Millie Haines took images to promote SW!M culminating in an exhibition at The Mowlem

“I actually found it quite emotional”

Steven added:

“I don’t think I’ve ever worked on something that has been so joyful. I really enjoyed turning up for the filming. You expect more tension from others when they are preparing for a performance but I always looked forward to working with the women.

“I actually found it quite emotional when I was editing it, listening again to their stories.

“Now it’s finished, one of the things that I’m very pleased about is that the film is accessible – there’s subtitles, British sign language and also an audio-described version. My mum is deaf in one ear, so I know how important it is to make sure my films can be enjoyed by everyone.”

Steven’s latest project is a film called Phantom Parrot due for release in March 2023, on a much harder hitting subject, about terror laws, modern espionage and digital privacy.

swimmers on Swanage beach

The group regularly meet on Swanage’s Main Beach around 8 am

Deborah Paige and Claire Hodgeson on Swanage Beach

Deborah Paige (left) and Claire Hodgson (right) conceived the idea for the show while sea swimming together in Swanage

“More people will know what a great place Swanage is to live”

Claire Hodgson, not only co-directed the SW!M show, but also runs the theatre company Diverse City, which backed the project.

Claire, who lives in Swanage, said:

“SW!M was an amazing opportunity to create performances for our community, performed by women in our community. I’m proud of the project and on a personal level I’ve been supported by these women and I find great joy and friendship in this community.

“I have also been taught about the tides, the wind direction and safe swimming techniques. Swimming is free and gives you a sense of achievement and joy.

“It’s good that the film will be widely shared and as a result more people will know what a great place Swanage is to live and what a strong community we have here!”

Watch the short film

Share this story

Contact us

Do you have anything to add to this story?

We like to keep everything up-to-date, so if you know more, please help us by getting in touch.


Top stories

Swanage Railway scraps plans for regular rail service to Wareham Despite years of battling to reinstate a branch line service between Swanage and Wareham in Dorset, Swanage Railway has dashed any hope of running trains up to the mainline for ... 1 month ago More Purbeck visitors urged to take trip to Brownsea 2 weeks ago Swanage to get seafront sauna and new beach cafe 1 month ago New chapter in store for Corfe Castle village shop 1 month ago Three weeks of roadworks to begin in Corfe Castle 4 days ago