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The role of the SwimTayka trustee

At SwimTayka, we greatly appreciate the hard work our trustees put into supporting our drowning prevention charity. The skills and knowledge they bring are invaluable.

Here we chat to one of our newest trustees, Ben Freeman, about why he joined, what the role of trustee entails and whether he’d recommend it to others (luckily for us, he would!)

Married to Allie, dad to Tom, 12, and Sophie, ten, and based in Swindon, Ben is CFO of RWE Renewables UK & Ireland. Here, as well as exercising his financial skills he uses his coaching qualifications and expertise to mentor and support colleagues.

How did you get involved with SwimTayka?

It was through a mutual friend, who asked if I knew of anyone with financial expertise, who wanted to help a charity out. I was interested myself, because of my experience in finance and my love of swimming.

I am a qualified swim teacher, teaching at Marlborough Penguins swimming club, and have been coaching at Swindon Triathlon Club for a number of years. 

I met up with Bryan, we went for a swim together at Lake 32 in the Cotswolds Water Park, got on very well, and I was formally appointed in November 2020.

Why did you decide to become a trustee?

I believed I had skills to offer. As well as the financial knowledge they were looking for, I’m also a qualified executive coach which I use to coach managers and teams from around the world at RWE. Combined, I felt these skills could be an asset as a trustee for SwimTayka. Plus of course, I love swimming. 

Longer term, career-wise, I’d like to build a portfolio career where I can combine my coaching and finance skills in board advisory/non-exec roles, and free up some of my time for teaching swimming and adventures. I think the trusteeship is a great step towards this.

Have you always loved swimming?

I’ve not always been a swimmer as such, but I have always loved participating in sports, being outdoors, and adventuring –  mountain biking, cycling, trail running, water sports, travel and expedition, wild camping and that kind of thing.

I started to pick up my running and entered into some races, which lead to a couple of off-road duathlons which I really enjoyed. The natural development from there was to enter a triathlon and so wanted to improve my swimming. As a child I did all the lifesaving badges; I was confident in the water but I had never done any ‘proper’ competitive swimming, so this was totally new to me.

So, I entered a sprint triathlon. Did it, loved it, joined the tri club. I’ve competed at all distances, Sprint, Olympic and a number of long course events including  Ironman … it’s a long list!

Why did you become a swim teacher?

I love the tri club, was really involved in it and wanted to give something back. I had been fortunate to compete in so many cool events, and I saw new people coming into the club who would have many questions, so it seemed a natural step. I took my British Triathlon Foundation coaching qualification.

My children were progressing from swim lessons to a club environment, so I helped at their club too – they were at Royal Wootton Bassett Otters at the time, where I took my ASA levels 1 and 2 teaching qualifications and have been doing it ever since.

I find it hugely rewarding to see smiles and the sense of achievement on swimmers’ faces after they have completed their first triathlon or taken part in a competitive swim meet.

Did you know drowning was such a worldwide problem? 

Until I spoke to Bryan and read about SwimTayka, I had no idea of the extent of the problem, but when I learned more it chimed with previous experiences. After I finished university in Sheffield my then-girlfriend (now wife) Allie and I went travelling for a year. We visited a lot of developing countries. It was clear to us, even as tourists, that there was a lack of swimming skills among the local people. 

In places with crystal clear, warm seas people often seemed scared of the water, and in particular girls and women seemed to be discouraged from getting in. Of course, there were fishermen, we saw people spearfishing, treading water and staying afloat by holding onto buoys, but a lot of locals seemed cautious of the water.

We’re very privileged in the UK. My children were dunked in the pool at ten weeks old, have been swimming ever since and are like fish now. Other countries don’t have this access to swimming pools, teachers and lessons, and SwimTayka is doing so much to help this.

What does your role as a trustee entail?

I bring my knowledge of finance and governance and support in this area, as well as help with the strategic direction of the charity. We’ve recently gone through a strategy review and a fundraising review, to create more structure so the charity can scale up and further its reach to help more people around the world.

Would you recommend becoming a trustee?

Most definitely. I get a lot out of being a trustee. I like helping people out and wanted to give something back, and put to good use some of the skills I have developed over the last 20 plus years. I have felt able to contribute in a positive way. Knowing it is for a cause I believe in is a real bonus. 

SwimTayka would love to hear from anyone with skills and some time to spare who is interested in finding out more about becoming a trustee. Please please get in touch.