Image credit: Ella Richardson Photography

Bluetits’ founder on growing a worldwide community of swimmers

Sian Richardson has been running the cold-water swimming community for a decade and now has 100,000 Bluetits under her wing

Gone were the days of long distance running and competing in triathlons for Bluetits’ founder Sian Richardson when she began cold-water swimming in 2014. What started as her turning to a gentler hobby after 15 years of strenuous, competitive sports turned into a community of over 100,000 members known as the Bluetits – a worldwide network held together by a shared love of cold-water swimming and adventures.

Still one to “love a challenge”, the swimmer from St David’s began training for the ice mile – a one-mile swim under International Ice Swimming Association rules in water temperature of 5 degrees Celsius or less wearing just a standard costume, goggles and a swim hat. She soon realised she had been deceived by thinking a mile swim can’t really be that hard (she had competed in much longer distance races, after all). 

Bluetits’ beginnings 

The 58-year-old, who made it to the top 20 on BBC Women’s Hour Power List 2023, began her cold-water swimming journey a decade ago when it was a novelty to see people in the sea during colder months. It started with her going into the water for two minutes, screaming and getting out again. Returning to the beach, she would be met by confused, sometimes worried, other times rather angry passers-by. But, being her chatty self, once she struck up a conversation with them, they appreciated what she was doing. Occasionally they’d even ask to join in, and this started to lay the foundations for the Bluetits. 

Sian admits there was “no planning” around creating the Bluetits community. Rather, it grew organically. Running a campsite in Pembrokeshire where she was born and has lived all her life, Sian meets a lot of visitors, many of whom are interested in her hobby of cold-water dipping. They come, join in, and she gives them a Bluetits badge. They go home to wherever they live, and they start their own routine and community. And so, little Bluetits groups have popped up all around Britain, and the rest of the world. America and Copenhagen were two of the first international countries to hop on the Bluetits wagon. There are now Bluetits communities all over the world including in the Netherlands, New Zealand, France, Lanzarote and Switzerland. 

Cold water is the anchor that holds us all together

The Bluetits have Sian’s husband to thank for the name of their community. He suggested Sian and her original fellow cold-dippers call themselves the Bluetits because when they came out the sea their tits were blue. Sian recalls her husband noticing how happy cold-water swimming was making her. She said: “The whole swimming with other people was making me laugh.” 

Sian joined forces with somebody she met who had worked in event organising, somebody with experience in social media and an accountant to turn the Bluetits into a social enterprise.

Uniting generations through cold-water swimming  

Breaking down barriers between generations, the Bluetits’ age ranges from 18 to 80+ and Sian admires this aspect of the community. She said: “There’s nothing I like better than being a mixed community of people. We love it when younger people join us because we can learn from each other.”

“When you all go in the water, you are all the same. You are all human beings with a beating heart and there’s something quite wonderful in that – in realising that you are 60 years old, in my case, and the person next to me is 18 years old. Because I’m an old woman, I love that young people want to spend time with me.” 

Sian emphasises how important the community aspect of cold-water swimming is. “Cold water is the anchor that holds us all together,” she says, “but it’s actually the whole package and community that draws people to come and do it again and again.”

Of course, some people do like to go in the water by themselves and have that peace and quiet. But Sian prefers to have people around her while cold-water dipping because, she believes, it makes it more pleasurable. 

Cold-water swimming can be a comfort blanket for those who may have lost a partner or retired and suddenly feel very lonely. Even if they don’t get in the sea, Sian says immersing themselves in the atmosphere helps. 

A picture of two people sitting on towels on the sand. They are drinking coffee and sharing some biscuits
Members of the Bluetits warming up after their cold-water dip. Image credit: Ella Richardson

Take the plunge with the Bluetits

Sian’s perfect morning involves a swim with the Bluetits at her local beach. She likes to get down there early to shoot content and watch the cars pull in at the car park. She welcomes in familiar and new faces before getting undressed and going into the water as a group. Once in, the Bluetits scream and laugh. Then, Sian explains, “the lovely bit” comes when everybody comes out of the water and the cake and coffee comes out. 

You celebrate the fact that you had the courage to turn up and swim

The Bluetits founder describes the thrill of sea dipping. While the time spent in the water is somewhat chaotic – “you’ve got all of this chatter going on” and “everything is heightened” – the aftermath of the dip is when you reap the benefits, feeling calm and accomplished for the rest of the day.

She explains: “Your mind says you’ve done it and thinks ‘oh my gosh, amazing.’ Then all the people around you tell you you’re amazing. Sitting around with everybody having a cup of coffee, you feel amazing. You’re wonderful. Then you go home and your family and friends tell you you are amazing. You celebrate the fact that you had the courage to turn up and swim.” 

Although she admits to being “biased”, Sian’s favourite place to swim is her local beach. “The reason I love it here,” she says, “is because I know it. I was born here. I know where every rock is and I know what the tides do.” That said, her top spots further afield include Bude Sea Pool in Cornwall and La Vallette in Guernsey.