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Can this brown gal swim? The final day!

It’s the final day of Summaya’s challenge and the Brown Gal Can’t Swim podcast and if you’ve stuck with us this far, you’ll have heard Summaya talking about why she is learning to swim at 27, changing rooms within swimming facilities, modesty and swimwear, plus why you should learn to swim given the apparent dangers with water.

Summaya stands in the swimming pool with water, looking up and talking to swimming teacher Victoria (who is stood at the side of the swimming pool)

Summaya (in water) and Nottingham Swim School Teacher, Victoria (right)

Spoiler Alert!

Now, if you’ve not listened to the final day of the podcast series, then below are some spoilers!

Let’s rewind to a cold, wet and windy day in Nottingham and a team of supporters (plus some open water swimmers) headed to Spring Lakes to watch Summaya take on her final task – a 500m open water swim.

Spring Lakes

Spring Lakes

Summaya is putting on a brave face as she mentally prepares for the swim and kindly snaps some images with our team and is interviewed by the BBC. She’s compiled a Brown Gal Can’t Swim playlist for everyone to listen to as she counts down the time before she gets into the cold lake.

As it approaches 4 pm, she is feeling nervous. The weather is gloomy, she is anxious about the swans and ducks, and a mix of emotions is overwhelming her. However, her swim coaches (Nottingham Swim School teacher Victoria Charles and Her Spirit’s Mel Berry) are present, along with Olympian Alice Dearing, offering words of calm, encouragement, and advice as she gets ready to swim. As she pops back into the changing room for a pep talk with her brother, she decides she needs a moment alone, saying: “(I’m) feeling really nervous. I’ve got butterflies, but I’m feeling ready – let’s do this”.

Right before she gets in the water, she listens to Ella Henderson’s Ghost to help calm her.

Summaya, wearing her wetsuit, floatation device and headphones, being interviewed by the BBC

Summaya, listening to Ella Henderson Ghost.

The time is now 4:15 pm and Summaya begins her swim, taking it in her stride, like a duck to water! She swims the first 200m using a variety of strokes and is looking strong, but then stops and it looks as though she might be struggling. But after a few words of encouragement and advice from the boat (with one of her coaches, Mel Berry, who is following), she powers on.

All the while Summaya is in the water, there are groups of swimmers also in the lake. They join her for the last push – providing an open water swim supporter group! Everyone is on the bank cheering and shouting to Summaya for the home stretch and the sound is deafening!

Summaya is being interviewed by the BBC and a camera crew stands in front of her as she emerges from the lake

Summaya, emerging victorious from Spring Lakes

At 4:39 pm, 24 minutes after she started the swim Summaya has done it! Summaya has swum 500m in open water after only learning how to swim 8 weeks ago – what an amazing achievement.

As she leaves the water, she tells the crowd (who have now gathered) “That felt like a lot. It was really, really hard. Eight weeks ago I literally couldn’t swim and today I’ve managed to do 500m in open water. If I can do it, and I could not swim at all, then anyone can do it! No matter how embarrassed you might feel about not having a (swimming) skill, it could save your life. With the right support and the right people around you, you can make it happen”.

Summaya, just finished the 500m open water swim, stands with her coat on, looking up and chatting to Rob Green

Summaya and Rob Green

Can this Brown Gal Swim? She sure can and she did an incredible job! Listen to the Brown Gal Can’t Swim series in full.


Get Out Get Active Nottingham has been honoured to work alongside Active Nottingham in supporting Summaya Mughal’s Brown Gal Can’t Swim campaign. The values of the project of supporting more people to be more active and overcoming the barriers faced to being active perfectly align with the campaign’s ambitions to address the lack of South Asian and other ethnic minority swimmers in our pools across the country.

Swimming is a great activity for everyone, regardless of age or ability. It offers numerous benefits for both our physical and mental health, including those with disabilities and long-term health conditions. However, for many who have never learnt to swim, or who have anxieties about accessing a pool, it can feel really overwhelming and can prevent people not only from accessing swimming pools but also from gaining the vital life skill of swimming and being safe in the water.

Through the GOGA project, we have implemented various swimming initiatives. One example is our Swim for Health program at the six Active Nottingham pools. This program offers public swimming in a calm environment with floatation aids and supportive equipment like gradual steps.

Yet, we understand that the main challenge is often overcoming mental and emotional barriers. That’s why we find inspiration in Summaya and her Brown Gal Can’t Swim campaign. Their efforts to eliminate the stigma around learning to swim and accessing support for swimming are commendable. We are proud to have partnered with them and Active Nottingham in this important endeavour.

Well done Summaya!

Summaya, pictured left, and Claudia (Get Out Get Active Nottingham) pictured right after the 500m open water swim

Summaya (left) and Claudia from Get Out Get Active Nottingham (right) celebrating the 500m swim


If you’ve been inspired to take up swimming, get in touch with Nottingham Swim School today and see how we can help you on your own swim journey.

Brown Gal Can’t Swim: City Council helps BBC presenter to get South Asian women swimming

Summaya (left) sat on the floor next to the edge of the pool. Alice Dearing, also sat down, is to her right.

Summaya Mughal (left) and Alice Dearing (right). Image: Charlie Firth

Nottingham-born BBC presenter Summaya Mughal has been learning to swim at Active Nottingham pools in a bid to encourage other South Asian women to take the plunge.

Active Nottingham, part of Nottingham City Council, has supported her during her journey which she starts sharing on air this week. Her five-part series looks into learning to swim at the age of 27 and explores why many South Asian women are less likely to swim.

In revealing that she couldn’t swim, Summaya exposed the cultural barriers that she faced and how it has affected her both physically and mentally. As part of this journey, Summaya has given other members of the South Asian community the confidence to take their first steps into swimming.

As a result of her campaign, Summaya was honoured at the Nottingham Awards 2022 last week for her work in the Voluntary and Community Sector. Meanwhile, Active Nottingham, Nottingham Swim School and the council’s school swimming department have been honoured at the recent Swim England Teaching and Education Awards.

The series titled ‘Brown Gal Can’t Swim’ sees Summaya learn to swim in just eight weeks at Active Nottingham swimming pools, supported by Nottingham Swim School swimming teacher Victoria Charles. Olympians Rebecca Adlington and Alice Dearing also provide support and guidance and set Summaya additional challenges including a 500m open water swim – will she do it? You’ll have to listen to the podcast to find out.

Portfolio Holder for Leisure and Culture, Cllr Pavlos Kotsonis, said: “We’re thrilled to be a part of this project with Summaya and the BBC to help raise awareness and showcase the importance of learning to swim within South Asian communities. This campaign will go a long way to help break down barriers that people face when it comes to swimwear, changing rooms, and going swimming itself and help get more communities involved in swimming.

“Active Nottingham and Nottingham Swim School are proud to have helped Summaya learn to swim over the past eight weeks and it was great to see her face the 500m open water challenge at Spring Lakes.

“Summaya has also worked with the black swimming association to challenge the lack of representation of black and Asian people in both recreational and elite swimming – she also engaged with Olympic swimmers Becky Adlington and Alice Dearing in her campaign, who both set her challenges for Summaya to complete.

Her work with diverse communities is second to none, both engaging and empowering!”

The Brown Gal Can’t Swim podcast is available on BBC Sounds: https://www.bbc.co.uk/sounds/series/p0ctzgft It will also be broadcast as a series on BBC East Midlands Today from Tuesday 11 October 2022.

Summaya at Southglade Leisure Centre. Image: Charlie Firth