The years 1950-51 saw important developments. It was obvious from week one that the five of us – Mac, George, Pat, Geoff and Phyl needed to enlist further help; so a rota of cars and drivers was set up, and the Wood Green Trefoil Guild kindly provided helpers in the changing room. This left us free for the water work.
At that time, Mac was catching up on his engineering studies (interrupted by seven years in the RAF) and he quickly realised that the principles of water – hydrodynamics and hydrostatics – and the knowledge given to us by all the scientists such as Archimedes, Bernoulli, Pascal, etc was the basis we needed for interrelating bodies of varying shapes and sizes with water – with control, skill and safety in that element.
Our first 12 girls were aged between 9 and 15 and all through that first year we learned from them, as they learned from us. They were our ‘guinea pigs’. We started a diary, which I still have and will always treasure. In this, they would write their achievements; later this was laughingly called “The Boasting Book”. It did, however, give us valuable comeback, with entries like “I swam two widths ON MY OWN” – “Two lengths WITHOUT HELP” – “Four widths WITH NO-ONE WITH ME”. This showed us the importance of Point Two (Disengagement) and of our maxim – Help-is-only-help-if-it-is-needed!! Independenceis still highly prized.
The need for Rotational Skills and control was emphasised by the problem for one swimmer, an achondroplasic, or dwarf. From tears to smiles, she finally conquered Lateral Rotation. For all our swimmers, with their asymmetric shapes, finding and controlling balance was essential in the learning programme; and as flotation aids such as rings and armbands in no way help in achieving this, they have never been considered.
So gradually the teaching plan developed, embracing the swimmers’ need for safe and happy progress in the water. Because of the involvement of our swimmers, and our agreement that all helpers used only ‘first names’, Mac named the Ten Teaching Points ‘THE HALLIWICK METHOD’.
With two aims in mind – ABILITY and NORMALITY – we set out to develop the ability in the water, which rarely relates to the Disability on land. Normality demanded we form a swimming club – with a name! Everyone was happy with ‘Penguins’ (not very mobile on land, but wonderful in the water!) and so, with the name of their school included, it was affiliated to the ASA as the Halliwick Penguins Swimming Club. This was the first swimming club with a teaching method embracing ALL disabilities.
In line with normality in swimming clubs, the year finished with their first gala. Though small by today’s standards, events included: club 100yds; one length backstroke; two widths freestyle; Novices width; three times one length relay; blowing-the-ping-pong-ball; diving (from bathside & springboard); walking width; and plunging (the winning distance being 18 feet 4 inches). Five certificates for 100 yards were presented. The rest of the school came down to watch – and guess what happened next!! The end of 1951 added fifteen more girls added to the swimming register. Transport was provided free by Universal Coaches, with their staff driving voluntarily on rota.
Group teaching next developed mainly to grade the progress of each swimmer through the ‘Ten Points’, but also as a means of training new helpers. Also, there was more fun and challenge in working one-to-one within a group of five or six swimmers. The group leaders set their programmes, checked by the chief instructor and games were constructed as a way of furthering each teaching point. This was when ‘Kangaroo Jumps’ came into being (invented by our daughter, then aged six, who called them ‘Robin Hops’) as both knees are lifted so there is no contact with gravity and the pool-floor.
Berthe Bobath visited us during our first year and enjoyed being a Halliwick instructor for a day. Soon after, we had three volunteers who were in training for the Helsinki Olympics. One was a diver, so the swimmers added diving to their achievements. The chairman of the school governors was so astounded by the diving event in the 1952 gala that he presented the club with a diving trophy (springboard and five foot firm-board).
Two swimmers left school during that year; one went to the local baths to show her Mum what she could do – and was refused admission. Were we teaching frustration??? More would be leaving shortly, so what was the solution? To inaugurate a national body under whose auspices we could work for the formation of similar clubs throughout the country, and therefore – in May 1952 THE ASSOCIATION OF SWIMMING THERAPY was founded. How quickly requests poured in for guidance in starting similar clubs was amazing!
To promote and expand the Halliwick Method, the inaugural meeting of the Association of Swimming Therapy was held in May 1952 at Halliwick School. Those present included Alderman Harold Fern, Secretary of ASA, many representatives from the medical field and from organisations for the Handicapped.
We were still tied by the Local Authority for the Penguins to remain a ‘closed club’, so how and where to start! Mac decided to ‘GO-FOR-IT!’ So in August 1952, the Optimists SC – an open club in the centre of London for all ages and all disabilities – was started (The manager of Ironmonger Row Baths was so interested that he came to all the swims and personally provided the hot drinks for the swimmers.)
The first members came from the Infantile Paralysis Fellowship and the children of the newly formed Association of Parents of Spastic Children (later to become The Spastics Society, & more recently, Scope.) The following year membership had doubled, and then quadrupled to cope, we were using three Pools – two at Ironmonger Row plus one at Greenman Street(known as ‘Tib’!).
Swimmers and helpers were travelling long distances for their swim, and expansion was vital so Mac started ‘Operation Strawberry’. As this plant sends out runners in all directions, so we started developing clubs within a radius of about 20 miles.
We had great problems at this stage due to the polio outbreak in the mid-1950. The general opinion then was that ‘one caught polio in a swimming bath’. Bath managers were sympathetic to our cause, but many said that if anyone were seen coming into their Baths with a limp, the public would stay away, and revenue would be lost.
So helpers came to Optimists SC to be trained in the Halliwick Method; then we helped them to start up their own clubs around London. – Finchley, Octopus; Woodford, Barnardo Dolphins; Kingston, Spartan; Kensington Emperors; Enfield, Venturers; Enterprise and Scampi in Croydon – and many more in quick succession.