Life's a Beach in Bournemouth

On the 24th of July Bournemouth’s Boscombe Beach will be filled with the sound of laughter and the smell of barbeques as local people enjoy free sports events and sea games – all watched over by 11 newly qualified volunteer lifeguards.

The Life’s a Beach event will be in full swing and one man’s smile will be bigger than most.

For 25-year-old organiser Lee Park the day will represent the culmination of weeks of hard work and four years of fighting for a better future.

After spending time in a children’s home during a turbulent childhood, where swimming was one of the few releases from his problems, Lee has turned his life around.

At the age of 19 he started volunteering on the Nacro Football Project in Boscombe, which led him to get involved in the BBC Your Game Project.

When Your Game finished, Lee successfully pitched for a £2,000 grant from the Swiss Embassy and the Life’s a Beach event was born.

This is Lee's story:

"When I was younger I had a difficult upbringing and the one escape I had was swimming.

Every Saturday I would go by myself. When I think back now, I wonder, ‘what was this 11-year-old kid doing going swimming by himself every Saturday?’ but that loneliness was the escape I needed.

Eventually I drifted away from swimming and into a life of drugs and crime. I wasn’t living my life the right way and was quite close to going to prison.

I left school at 15 and there was a real hopelessness as I didn’t see anything worth living for. By the time I got to 19 I didn’t have anywhere to live and I was surviving on handouts.

But then I managed to shake myself up. I realised things weren’t working out - I had to do something and make changes.

I got a bed-sit and started to put into place the building blocks of putting my life back together. I stayed out of trouble and got a job working in kitchens and before I knew it I’d been working for a year and was earning my self respect back.

I ended up meeting a Police Community Support Officer who suggested I get involved with volunteering on the Nacro Football Project. That led to being part of Your Game for a year, where I met people from all around the country and got to go to places like Manchester and Switzerland.

When Your Game finished, the Swiss Embassy offered a £2,000 grant to help someone who had been involved in the project to deliver their own initiative.

The requirements to win the grant were that the proposed scheme must re-engage with young people, regenerate your local area and allow you to gain skills yourself.

So I put forward my Life’s a Beach idea, which is all about helping people at Boscombe to embrace the beach again. My plan was to offer free training to become a qualified lifeguard and to put on a one-day beach festival, with an aim to keep the spirit of the beach alive. Fortunately the panel of experts went for it.

There are several reasons I wanted to target the beach.

I’ve always identified with swimming; it was always a great release for me as a youngster. In the sea there is no one out there but you. You can push yourself as far as you want or you can just have fun. It’s a great experience and not enough people are enjoying it.

There was already a council project underway in Boscombe to regenerate the area and a large amount of money had been spent on a new reef but a lot of young people didn’t realise how it could be used to their advantage - instead they saw the regeneration of the beach as another barrier.

The surf and beach culture can be quite glossy and expensive. A lot of those involved in life guarding have been able to afford to be part of surf clubs and have been learning to be lifeguards since they were 12. They have had all of the gear and the opportunities.

Because of this project, I’m really pleased to say that 11 people from different moulds and backgrounds have had the chance to show what they can do.

There are people who have struggled in certain areas of their lives but now they have signed up and showed they are ready to take that next level of responsibility.

Although the course is free, the guys and girls have had to commit to an intense one-week training course and then to do 20 hours as a volunteer lifeguard. This gives them the opportunity to follow up their training with some real life experience, which will be invaluable.

On the 24th of July we will have a big celebration with lots of sports for people to come and try, as well as some VIPs coming down to hand certificates to the boys and girls who have passed the course.

Thanks to the support of a lot of local people the day will be a great chance to celebrate the beach, celebrate the people and the process, showing them they can push forward and show others in the community what they can do.

Being a volunteer youth worker is brilliant. This is the dream job for me. Although I do currently have to balance it with working in kitchens as a chef, doing 40 or 50 hours per week, so my next goal is to try and move on and do the youth work full time.

Someone took a chance on me and I’ve paid off. Now it’s only right I give back and make sure other people get chances.

I always said – I want someone like me to go back and help someone like me."

If you want to learn how to swim or improve your technique, go to the official British Swimming website and find out about swimming in your area.

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