Biomedical Sciences

Taking the plunge - 100km charity swim around Arran

Dr Andre Phillips, Teaching Fellow in Reproductive Biology for the Biomedical Teaching Office, chats to Charlotte Davidson about his mission to swim around the Isle of Arran next month for teenage mental health charity Papyrus.

What sparked the idea for this swim? And why did you choose this charity?

During lockdown, one of my friends Kate, who’d been struggling with their mental health, unfortunately took her own life.

I felt helpless. Unable to have helped my friend and many other young people who I’ve met, I wanted to funnel this energy into a big adventure that might catch people’s attention and raise some money.

Kate was from Arran and we had kayaked there a few times, talking about going all the way around the island. The idea of swimming the 100km around the island stuck there.

Despite struggling with her own mental health, Kate still fundraised for Papyrus, a teenage mental health charity. Papyrus is trying to improve mental health for young people at all levels, providing a Hopeline for people to call anytime.

As a Teaching Fellow and Personal Tutor I am regularly encountering students doing an incredible job succeeding at university despite huge adversity. Those outside the university system have far less support and our students could do with even more. And so, in memory of my friend Kate and for all those dealing with mental health, Papyrus is the right charity.

What does your training currently involve?

Training has been far from ideal. Trying to work, plan logistics, get the word out and train while maintaining my own mental health has been a huge juggling act.

Most weeks my aim has been to swim three times a week – a mixture of indoors and outdoor ­– and strength train once a week.

Many weeks I didn’t complete the full training and it has been challenging to accept that a non-perfect training plan has still worked.

What are you most looking forward to about your swim?

People and Wildlife!

There is an open invitation to come join for bits of the swim! I’m looking forward to meeting friends and strangers in the water and building that incredible bond that is forged in adventures.

Arran has one of the best regulated Marine Protected Areas so there are huge amounts of wildlife above and below the surface. I’ll be swimming with seals and diving seabirds, spotting crabs and lobsters which will keep me distracted from the fatigue, chafing and salt rash.

What are you dreading the most?

As it gets later in the season, different species of jellyfish appear and the dreaded Lions mane Jellies, while stunningly beautiful, can sting for more than six hours. I’ve planned my swim in June to try and get around the island before they swarm but this comes at a cost too.

This early in the year the water temperature is likely to sit around 12 degrees and I may need to swim for four hours at once.

I’m balancing a knife edge of jellyfish stings and hypothermia and hope I’ve got it just right, guess we’ll find out!

Anything else you’d like to add?

If you’ve heard about all this talk of cold-water swimming and mental health but haven’t had a go yourself, I’ve got just the thing. Mental Health Swims is a UK-wide community of people providing a route to explore wild swimming. There are hosts across the country who have mental health first aid training and can get you safely into the addictive cold water.

As a member of a team I host Mental Health Swims at Wardie Bay here in Edinburgh every two weeks on Mondays at 6pm. There are also events at Portabello and South Queensferry every month.

Further information

Read further information on the Mental Health Swims website 

You can watch Andre’s journey around the Isle of Arran on his website