Liz Richardson writes an exclusive piece for Female First
Liz Richardson writes an exclusive piece for Female First

SWIM explores one woman’s story with grief whilst discovering open water swimming and a community. It is about the beauty of nature, the pain in our lives and finding support through the isolation.

I grew up in the Lake District, walking fells and swimming in the lakes, tarns and rivers.

I later moved to London to train at an acting school; it was only when I moved up to the Peak District five years ago that I was invited to join a group of early morning dippers.

It was then that I started being intrigued by the community of open water swimmers. People had stories to tell in the water, reasons they needed the water, reasons to be together. Despite having a childhood of swimming and reading and exploring Kate Rew’s Wild Swim whilst I lived in the city, I wasn’t aware of how big an activity wild swimming had become until meeting this group.

A year after the deaths of my friend’s niece and nephew and during a time that I noticed my friend (and her sister) increasingly finding solace in open water swimming, I was sat watching Hannah Maia’s My Big White Thighs and Me, at Sheffield Adventure Film Festival, thinking - how can the two passions in my life; the outdoors and the arts, exist in a theatre? How can I bring an amalgamation of all these stories of people’s battles in life feeling quashed for those minutes they swim under the sky, to a live piece of art?

I chose to collaborate with theatre-makers Josie Dale-Jones and Sam Ward to help me make SWIM. I also discovered the amazing composer and musician Carmel Smickersgill, who joined the team. I organsied workshops with members of the Outdoor Swimming Society communities and with people who have been bereaved, with the help of Cruse Bereavement Care. This gave the team a real insight into the world of open water swimmers and also into the stories of those that were grieving. My friend was at the heart of the story we were creating, but the community of people that we met really helped us understand the wider picture.

Whilst making SWIM, I have been on some incredible wild swims with people from all over the UK. I have been told heart-warming stories and I have loved going swimming with Josie and Sam (not Carmel - you need to see the show as to why not Carmel!)

I am lucky enough to have been awarded the Pleasance Theatre Pathways Partnership Award in association with HOME. After the Edinburgh Fringe, I hope to take the show on the road to UK theatres and also spaces which we can perform at whilst engaging with the local open water swimming communities! I am grateful to be supported by the Outdoor Swimming Society and hope that by working together, we will be able to draw in theatre-goers and open water swimmers alike and cross over the two worlds.

Whilst in Edinburgh, Josie, Sam and I will be doing a weekly swim on Portobello Beach predominately for Fringe staff and artists, in hopes that the act of coming together in the water will help dissipate the stress and anxiety which often surrounds bringing your work to the month-long festival.