A campaign called Swim Bristol has recently received wide publicity through coverage by the BBC, ITV, Bristol Post and the Mayor, George Ferguson after a group of six UWE students began a campaign to allow swimming in the harbour.

Although at present – as with many creative projects attempting to move beyond the conceptual ground – Swim Bristol is still in uncertain waters.

The project is focused on providing swimming opportunities in Bristol harbour and beyond; its aims are to bring life to the waterfront area of Bristol and hopefully to become a future precedent for Britain’s waterways as a whole. At the moment, it is prohibited for the public to swim in the harbour and in the most parts of the river Avon.

One of the main talking points is the cleanliness of the water. However, according to Sophie Jarzebowski – one of the six founding members of the project – Bristol “has cleaner water than the popular swimming beaches in Weston-Super-Mare and Bournemouth, amongst others.” Taking example of similar projects in Copenhagen and London, the team behind Swim Bristol is at the forefront of a unique urban revival movement.

According to Sophie, the initial aim of the project was achieved. “The main aim was to cause discussion; our outputs were meant to be deliberately provoking.” The discussions weren’t necessarily all positive as issues of safety and viability of the scheme were questioned. George Ferguson expressed that “it is a good idea, but needs to come with funding.”

If the project Swim Bristol succeeds, we might soon be able to swim in the harbour // Credit: Swim Bristol
If the project Swim Bristol succeeds, we might soon be able to swim in the harbour // Credit: Swim Bristol

“The only response from the local city council has been indirectly through the Bristol Post”, says Sophie, “they responded with a big list of Health and Safety stuff to do in the harbour. They haven’t commented on the project, nor have they said anything directly to us.”

A spin-off project has been created by a different set of Architecture students and it has already attracted attention from Space Hive crowdfunding – the world’s first crowdfunding website for civic projects. The new project focuses on creating an open-air swimming pool in The Wharf, a short distance away from the Harbourside. “The projects are completely unrelated, but could happily work together”, admits Sophie. The students are currently working with Nudge and Shanks groups to assess the viability of the project.

A possibility remains to adopt Swim Bristol as a one-off public spectacle. Park and Slide is a recent example – on 4th May, 65,000 people came out to appreciate the transformation of Park Street into another water-themed example of community and public involvement. “It could realistically happen for the Green Capital, as it is trying to push loads of initiatives for a healthy city. It could be permanent, or it could be temporary”, says Sophie.

Judging by the overwhelmingly positive response and attention received from the Bristol public, Swim Bristol has a real chance of becoming part of a rising tide for urban revival schemes – “It’s really cool that we as students could have sparked something that could change Bristol.”

By Ben Gerdziunas