Skip to content

Surrey increases sensory-friendly swim sessions after successful pilot

Swims featuring calmer, quieter environment now available at 4 pools across city
The City of Surrey is continuing to offer sensory-friendly swim sessions after a pilot initiative received positive feedback from the community. (Pixabay photo)

Sensory-friendly swims are staying in Surrey — with more options added — after an initial pilot proved successful.

The swims, which feature a calmer, quieter environment for pool users, were first introduced last December at two of the city’s pools, the South Surrey Indoor Pool and the Surrey Sport & Leisure Complex , after Surrey resident and father Mark Smeets made a presentation to the city’s parks and recreation department last September.

Four swims per pool were scheduled through March 2024 – one each month — for the pilot initiative, which will now continue at more locations, Surrey’s manager of community and recreation services Jeff Holland confirmed.

“With the ongoing success of the sensory-friendly swims and seeing positive input from the community, we are adding two additional swims to the schedule,” Holland said in an email. “This will allow for one swim each week and for opportunities at different pools across the city.”

READ MORE: City of Surrey introduces sensory-friendly swim sessions at 2 facilities

The revised schedule is now as follows:

• South Surrey Indoor Pool (14655 17 Ave.): Noon to 2 p.m. first Saturday of the month

• Surrey Sport & Leisure Complex (16555 Fraser Highway): Noon to 2 p.m. second Monday of the month

• Guildford Recreation Centre (15105 105 Ave.): 1 to 3 p.m. third Wednesday of the month

• Newton Recreation Centre (13730 72 Ave.): 1 to 3 p.m. fourth Tuesday of the month

The swim sessions have no background music and feature reduced noise and water features, no speaker announcements, whistles only for emergencies, encouraged use of paper towel instead of hand dryers (using signage), designated sensory-friendly break rooms and transition warnings.

Swims are open to all, especially for those who are autistic, have anxiety or other sensory processing needs, or anyone who feels they would benefit from a more supportive environment.

The city worked closely in partnership with the Canucks Autism Network (CAN), who helped them create sensory-friendly kits, which are available for participants to borrow during their sensory-friendly swim times as well. The kits include noise-cancelling headphones, communication cards, fidget toys, ear plugs and sunglasses.

Smeets, who hosts the podcast We are the ADHD Family, was pleased to hear there will be more such swims at more locations in the city, but he thinks more could still be done.

He was diagnosed with ADHD (attention deficit/hyperactivity disorder) two years ago, along with his wife, he told Peace Arch News last December. Their son has been diagnosed with ADHD and autism, and their daughter also has “undiagnosed ADHD.”

“It’s excellent news that the city has expanded this to more locations. It’s a great step forward,” he said.

The father, who advocates with his wife to help break down barriers and the stigma that often comes with diagnoses like autism and ADHD, said the next step he’d like to see is expanding the dates and times so families can enjoy the sessions outside of school hours, within their own neighbourhood.

“A family should not have to take their child out of school or … take on a longer commute, to do this,” Smeets said.

“Why should a family travel from Fleetwood to South Surrey and have to put up with all the construction taking place, which has gridlocked traffic?”

When his son was little, Smeets would always travel the same way home or to a certain destination, he explained.

“If I didn’t, that would be scary for him, because he wouldn’t recognize where we were — it was outside of his routine,” Smeets said. “This is just one of the struggles that highlight what families like mine face. Each pool operates 112 hours per week. Even though this is at four locations, there is still 110 hours per week, per pool, to utilize.”

Tricia Weel

About the Author: Tricia Weel

I’m a lifelong writer, and worked as a journalist in community newspapers for more than a decade, from White Rock to Parksville and Qualicum Beach, to Abbotsford and Surrey, from 2001-2012
Read more