ukactive Awards 2021: Littlehampton man wins Outstanding Leadership Award for his work guiding the Swimming Teachers’ Association through the pandemic

A Littlehampton man who steered swimming groups across the country through Covid-19 has won a coveted national award from ukactive.

Dave Candler, chief executive at Swimming Teachers’ Association, was praised for not only helping members and swim schools to negotiate their way through the pandemic but also expand into new aquatic disciplines in the past year.

He was announced the winner of the national Outstanding Leadership Award by Baroness Tanni Grey-Thompson at the ukactive Awards 2021 on August 12.

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Dave joined STA in 2016, having previously worked at Littlehampton Swimming and Sports Centre, working his way up from an assistant and receptionist to centre manager.

A qualified swimming teacher and lifeguard tutor, Dave was recognised for the tremendous effort he and his team made to help and support grassroots swimming during the pandemic.

Dave said: “Swimming has been one of the most impacted sports during the pandemic, so, it’s fair to say that it has been one hell of a rollercoaster journey, and we are by no means out of the woods yet, but STA is proud of the route it took in prioritising the needs of all those involved in delivering grassroots swimming.

“If there are any positives to come out of the pandemic, it’s how we’ve all come together as an STA family to support each other – long may this continue.

“I am therefore truly honoured to win ukactive’s Outstanding Leadership award but I have to say it has been a team effort. The senior management team have been outstanding throughout my tenure as CEO, and never more so than during the past 18 months.

Chief executive Dave Candler worked his way up from an assistant and receptionist to centre manager at Littlehampton Swimming and Sports Centre before joining the Swimming Teachers’ Association in 2016

“They have worked tirelessly in the most difficult of circumstances and with limited resources, and I would like to take this opportunity to thank them. I would also like to thank the trustees for their continued support and all our members and partners who put their trust in us – thank you too to everyone who voted.”

The Outstanding Leadership Award is is voted for by the UK’s physical activity sector. Dave will also be presented with his award in person at a special winner’s ceremony in London.

As part of the nomination, it was said that Dave and his senior management team had transformed STA, a national governing body for swimming.

The organisation has grown substantially in terms of numbers and the ‘friendly and open’ approach has paved the way for innovative partnership working in aquatics, which has revolutionised the way training across all areas is delivered.

When lockdown happened in March 2020, it was a worrying time for the not-for-profit charity, as STA wholly relies on income from its membership, qualifications and award sales.

For Dave and his team, business survival was the first priority but then, as the weeks passed, it became clear the 12,000-plus members and swim schools were relying on the organisation to lead and guide them through.

Dave said: “STA was literally inundated with thousands of questions from members and swims schools on a daily basis, then as the lockdown progressed, the enormity of Covid became a realisation and we soon recognised that no one really had any political influence on reversing decisions about Covid – the protection of people’s health and the NHS was the government’s only priority.

“As a result of these factors, our rationale was that STA had two major roles to play, to support ukactive and CIMSPA in their roles as the lead liaisons with government (unite as one voice) and protect, support and keep our members and swim schools engaged, motivated and informed.”

In May 2020, STA was first to publish detailed Covid-19 guidance in preparation for swim schools reopening and the 50-page document covered all areas and types of UK swim school operations.

Dave said: “As a team, we also realised that practical support alone would not to be enough. Covid was having a devastating financial impact on leisure pool operators and efforts were needed to help reboot the industry in relation to staff recruitment and training.

“In response, we froze membership fees, reduced awards prices, introduced Train Without Limits, a new scheme that enables operators to run STA courses without having to sign and commit to long-term contracts, and proactively helped operators successfully secure CIMSPA’s Retrain funding.

“More recently, we have also partnered with ICON Training, to create a unique new aquatics apprenticeship scheme in response to the national swimming teacher shortages that Covid has exacerbated.”

The annual ukactive awards covering the entire sports and physical activity landscape, throughout the public, private and third sectors.