Hackney burns survivor to provide free swimming scheme

Sylvia Mac is behind a scheme to boost the confidence of people with body disfigurement   Pic: Love Disfigure

A Hackney resident will be providing free swimming sessions to help those who have disfigurements overcome their body image insecurities and to boost their confidence and self-esteem.

Sylvia Mac, 48, is the lead campaigner of the scheme and also the founder of the online blog Love Disfigure.

At the age of four, she was severely burnt after falling into boiling hot water which left her with third and fourth-degree burns all over her back and various parts of her body.

After being rushed to hospital she was put into an induced coma on life support and her family was told that she wouldn’t make it. However after various operations and skin grafts taken from every part of her body, she pulled through and continued to get stronger.

Speaking to Eastlondonlines she said: “Over the years I have suffered from depression, anxiety, locking myself away from the world and so much more. But one day I said enough is enough and I would eventually have to live my life again.”

The former swimming instructor who coached people for over 20 years got in touch with Better Leisure centres, who agreed to provide pool space and a free first swim for people with disfigurements.

The informal and very relaxed, fortnightly sessions are held at Highbury Pool in Islington and people are invited to simply turn up on the day to enjoy some time in the water with support from others who understand what they might be experiencing.

Family and friends can join in too but will have to pay the usual fee.

Sylvia added: “If there is one thing I remember, it is how much I loved being in the water even when I felt down. It’s just a fun session to build confidence and allows others to meet people with skin conditions like them and not worry about anyone else.

“I remember when it first started, there was a lady who was crying outside the centre because she wasn’t confident within herself. I went up to her and spoke to her, now she comes alone and buys lovely swimsuits. It’s lovely to see people’s confidence being built.”

Sylvia is not just stopping here. She is also currently taking part in a Face Equality campaign being run by leading disfigurement charity, Changing Faces, which will celebrate its 25th anniversary this year. Changing Faces began its work in 1992 to help people who have a disfigurement find a way to live the life they want.

The charity aims to encourage their clients to conquer their fears and define their own sense of identity while challenging prejudice, respecting differences and speaking to a world that needs to change.

The swim sessions will take place at Better Leisure centre in Islington   Pic: Google Maps

Sylvia also believes that it is in these little steps that more awareness can be made for people who suffer from burns and scars and hopes more can be done to campaign about it.

Speaking to Eastlondonlines she said: “Being a spokesperson about something I am so passionate about is a great thing and the more people know about this, the more open we can all be.

“If I can be the voice for disfigurement, that will be great. However, it’s not about me, it’s about others.”

Better Leisure’s engagement manager Katie Ellis said: “We are delighted to be able to support Sylvia with these swimming sessions and with her vital campaign around disfigurement. As a social enterprise, we exist to support the community and that means helping to highlight Face Equality.”

The next swimming session is scheduled for this Saturday (May 27) at Highbury Pool in Islington.

For more information please visit Love Disfigure’s events page here.

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