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A North-East swim school has been named Autism Swim Provider of the Year out of more than 1,200 other providers across the country.

Sunderland’s ‘in at the deep end’, or IATDE, has received the prestigious Autism Swim Provider of the Year award in recognition of its excellence and inclusive approach.

The school is the only Autism Swim Approved Centre in the North-East and offers more than 70 classes and courses for people of all ages and abilities – helping more than 700 people each and every week. IATDE was co-founded by Mark McNichol, from South Tyneside, who has been a qualified swimming instructor for more than 20 years.

Mark said: “Since founding IATDE, we have always aimed to be an open, accepting and accommodating swim school for everybody within the local community.

“Over the years we realised that there was a huge gap in the market and children who were neurodiverse were missing out on lessons. Therefore, in partnership with Autism Swim and support from the STA we started upskilling all of our teachers to enable us to become more inclusive and accessible to all.”

Children on the autism spectrum are 160 times more likely to drown than their peers. This hugely underreported statistic was the catalyst for Autism Swim being established in 2016. Autism Swim announces the winner of Provider of the Year each year to celebrate those who prioritise inclusion and embody their mission.

Since the swim school was set up in 2008, ‘in at the deep end’ has become nationally and internationally recognised for its high standards, outstanding safety, extensive staff training, flexibility, and affordability. The school holds the Swimming Teachers Association (STA) STAMark award – the definitive health and safety qualification for the industry – and was named in the national STA return to swimming guidance document.

STA UK’s Commercial Director Zoe Cooper believes the industry still has a long way to go in bridging the inclusivity gap. However, in her opinion, IATDE and Autism Swim are certainly making positive waves. She said: “We are proud of our partnership with Autism Swim, and the pathways we have created to help UK swim schools access their specialist training.  In at the Deep End, one of our affiliated swim schools, is a shining example of this success, and we congratulate Mark and his team for being named Autism Swim Provider of the Year – it’s an incredible achievement.”

From swimming lessons for children, aqua natal classes, and birthday pool parties, to lifeguard training, first aid courses, and autism friendly sessions, ‘in at the deep end’ offers more than 60 classes and courses for all ages and abilities at Castle View Community and Fitness Centre, Sunderland, and Thornhill Academy, Sunderland. They are also planning to run classes from an additional venue in Seaham to accommodate more people from January.

To find out more about IATDE, go to: