Wild swimming just got wilder with unique Swanage show

An extraordinary double bill of theatre about swimming in the sea is to take place on midsummer’s evening, with a performance on The Mowlem stage followed by a choreographed swim spectacular by 50 women in Swanage Bay.

The free event starting at 6 pm on Tuesday 21st June 2021 is backed by the Arts Council and celebrates the group of women who meet every morning, including in the winter, to swim in Swanage Bay. It’s called SW!M.

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Wild swimming in the sea in Swanage
Millie Haines

Sea swimming all year round in Swanage

Stories of those who brave the water all year round

Inspired by the conversations between the women while wild swimming in the sea, the evening will begin with In Our Own Words in The Mowlem auditorium.

A selection of the women will recount the stories and experiences of those who brave the water all year round.

Millie Haines
Wild swimming in the sea in Swanage
Millie Haines

Local photographer Millie Haines was commissioned to take photos of the group of women who regularly swim in Swanage

Swim extravaganza

Then the event will head outside to the beach by The Mowlem, for the In Our Element swim extravaganza performed by 50 local women swimmers.

It was made possible by a £9,995 grant from the Arts Council’s Let’s Create Jubilee Fund and Dorset Community Foundation.

swimmers on Swanage beach
Deborah Paige and Claire Hodgeson on Swanage Beach

Deborah Paige and Claire Hodgson met when they were sea swimming in the morning in Swanage and then discovered they had a joint passion for theatre

Keen Swanage sea swimmers

The idea was first conceived by keen Swanage sea swimmers Deborah Paige and Claire Hodgson.

Deborah has a wealth of theatre experience having run two regional theatres, the Crucible Theatre in Sheffield and the Salisbury Playhouse, and is also now the co-chair of The Mowlem trustees.

Claire is an artistic director who was awarded an MBE for her work and runs the theatre company Diverse City.

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

Rehearsing on the beach, filmed by Steven Lake a filmmaker from Wareham who is making a documentary about wild swimming in Swanage for the BBC

“Finding the extraordinary in the ordinary”

Deborah said:

“I was really struck by the conversations that I had while swimming with the group – I like finding the extraordinary in the ordinary.

“After bumping into Claire on our swims, we discussed what we could do and the idea just grew from there. We thought about doing something in The Mowlem or on the beach and in the end we decided to do both!”

Rehearsals at The Mowlem for SW!M
SW!M
Rehearsals at The Mowlem for SW!M production
SW!M

Rehearsals in The Mowlem for the stage show

On stage at The Mowlem

To start the performance they’ll be a 40 minute show at 6 pm in The Mowlem, where 14 women will voice the words of themselves and others. For some this will be the first time on a stage since school performances.

Deborah added:

“It’s an incredibly brave thing for some of the women to do – it’s very exposing. Only women who are capable of swimming outside through the winter would be brave enough to do this!”

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

Millie films underwater using her GoPro camera

Head into the sea

Then outside The Mowlem, they’ll be joined by other women aged between 50 and 77, for a 20 minute show that will start at 7 pm on the beach and then they’ll head into the sea. There promises to be singing, dancing and music.

Claire said:

“The women come from all different walks of life – teachers, nurses – pretty much the backbone of our community.

“While we are all different, we all have the commonality of swimming which connects us to each other.”

Wild swimming in the sea in Swanage
Millie Haines

All the images were printed for the exhibition by local company Purbeck Media

Photographic exhibition

As well as the show, there is a photographic exhibition in The Mowlem, documenting the swimming group.

The images were taken by Millie Haines, who started swimming to help improve her mental health.

Alongside her love of the sea, photography with her GoPro is her passion and she just started taking pictures for fun.

Millie Haines at Swim event at The Mowlem

Millie Haines and her photographs

“It’s amazing!”

Millie said:

“I had no idea that my photos would then get commissioned and be shown in an exhibition – it’s amazing! I have done photography for weddings in the past and posted content for social media, but not anything on this scale before.

“It’s really helped me restore my own identity. As a mother you can sometimes lose who you are, and also with both my parents well known in the local community, I am often more recognised as their daughter.

“With this project, I really feel that I’m saying that I’m Millie Haines, photographer, which feels good.”

Millie Haines at Swim event at The Mowlem
Milly Haines swimming in the sea at Swanage
Milly Haines

Millie swimming in the sea with Jeanette, who she credits as a great friend and the ‘mother’ of the group. Jeanette is also producing the costumes for the show

“Swimming really sets you up for the day”

Millie says that it really helped that she knew the people she was taking photos of and that they knew her, as it helped build a rapport that shines through the images. Millie added:

“I find all the women so inspiring and the swimming really sets you up for the day. It’s good for the body and the mind.

“There are so many benefits for my mental health – when I’m swimming, all I can think about is swimming. Everyone gives me lots of encouragement and it makes me feel stronger than I am.”

Millie Haines at Swim event at The Mowlem (

The poster for the show was created by Swanage School pupils and chosen from a number of entries

The Mowlem “We’ve turned over a new leaf”

For Claire and Deborah it’s a chance to work where they live, bringing their experience from elsewhere to Swanage.

It is also providing employment in the arts for people from Swanage and Dorset who are working as part of the production team, including the sound and lighting.

Kim Crundall is the project manager and Rohan Gotobed, who appeared in a Harry Potter film, is the production manager and both live locally.

Deborah said:

“This has opened up a real opportunity for The Mowlem to be in the business of creating shows, not just receiving them. We’ve turned over a new leaf and are really engaging with the community.

“The show is going to offer an amazing insight into the lives of local women – be fun, enjoyable and moving.”

“It could only happen in Swanage!”

Claire added:

“It’s really captured the imagination. Here’s the sea, it’s part of the town, so why not make it part of the performance?

“Made by Swanage in Swanage. It could only happen in Swanage!”

Sw!M poster

Further information

  • The event is free, however tickets are required for the show in The Mowlem, which can be booked via its website
  • The show on the beach is open to anyone who wishes to watch. The audience is being asked to stand on Shore Road, so there is enough space on the sand for the performance. It’ll also be the best place to get a good view. Those who wish to come in for a swim at the end, are welcome to do so.
  • More photos and information is on the SW!M Facebook page

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