Two friends from Lancaster University have set up their own business catering to wild swimmers after discovering the sport during lockdown.
Matt Alpin, who is a Sport & Exercise Science student, and Luke Harrison, who graduated with an MSc in Conservation & Biodiversity, founded Wild North to offer changing robes for outdoor swimmers. https://www.wild-north.uk/our-story
Matt said: “We started wild swimming as a way of escaping the tedium of lockdown last summer and totally fell in love with the post-swim endorphin rush, so we carried on right through the winter, around once a week in the lakes, rivers and even Morecambe Bay.
“After a swim, however, it’s really easy to get cold and getting changed with freezing fingers, whilst trying to hold a towel up on a rainy riverbank isn’t the most pleasant experience. There are changing robes out there, but, most start at around £100, with the larger brands going for £150 which, for myself and a lot of other people just wasn’t affordable.”
The two friends sourced a supplier and designed a similar robe but at a much lower price.
“Our initial customer feedback was brilliant, people seemed really excited about a local brand supplying robes, as well as the price.”
Their market research was based on conversations with wild swimmers in a Facebook group and they realised how important the North was to local people.
“Part of the feedback we’ve had is a real resonance with the name ‘Wild North’. It seems there has been a big increase in Northern pride recently, and we’d like a brand that represents that. Most of the changing robe brands are based in Devon and Cornwall, so people seemed really happy to have a local supplier they could support.”
The attractions of wild swimming are backed up by research.
Dr Jenny Meggs is a lecturer in Sports Psychology at Lancaster Medical School, where Matt studied her module on resilience.
She said: “There is emerging research evidence to suggest that exposure to cold water can have biological and psychological effects that contribute to improved psychological and physical well-being. For example, exposure to cold wateractivates the sympathetic nervous system and increases the blood level of beta-endorphin and noradrenaline and along with increased in neural synaptic release of noradrenaline. This is thought to account for the positive feelings associated with the initial exposure to cold water.”
Dr Meggs wishes to contact both seasoned and novice cold water swimmers to better understand the mechanisms that underpin the relationship between psychological well-being and cold water swimming.
These health benefits mean more and more people are attracted to the sport and there are already plans to expand Wild North.
Matt said: “Our whole idea is to promote the concept of ‘everyday adventure’. We want people to finish work, jump in the car and head to the river to swim, and we don’t want our robes to be a barrier to that, so hopefully if our launch goes well we’ll be able to expand our range to suit everyone.”
The two friends and business partners also aim to ensure a sustainable supply chain with eco-materials and more swimming related products.
If you are interested in contributing to Dr Megg’s research at Lancaster University please email firstname.lastname@example.org