Very often when we hear about disabilities, we think about all the things in life people can’t do.

But the Phoenix Swimming Club in Colchester preaches that when life gives you lemons, you ought to make lemonade.

The Phoenix charity supports swimmers of all ages with a range of disabilities, all united by the passion of swimming.

The club was founded more than 28 years ago by Maggie Hargreaves, who lost her leg in an accident.

Maggie supported scores of children through the club and while she died earlier this year, her legacy still lives.

Theresa Higgins, 66, former mayor of Colchester who now runs the charity, said the club looks at swimmers’ ability, and not their disability.

Read more >> How your charity or community project could get a share of £20,000

She added: “People underestimate the ability of these swimmers.

“A lot of parents when they have a child with disabilities, they look at the bad side of things and not the positives.”

The Phoenix club has two different sections – teaching and squad.

The former sessions are one-hour classes at Colchester Leisure World, where beginners and young children alike progress through different stages of learning how to swim.

Maldon and Burnham Standard: Club members

As they become older they can either continue swimming for fun and fitness or start training with the squad.

Squad sessions are held a few times a week at the Garrison Swimming Pool and are aimed at advanced swimmers.

The Phoenix Swimming Club has managed to help many talents, including Mark Holmes, Holly Bocking, Helen Thompson and Ellie Challis - a quadruple amputee who won a silver medal in the Tokyo 2020 Paralympics.

And the club couldn’t be more proud of their achievements.

Mrs Higgins added: “It does give a buzz to the whole club, especially with Ellie because she had meningitis as a small child and is a quadruple amputee.

“I think what we are trying to do is keep that positivity going.”

However, getting all those talents out of the shadow of disability wouldn’t be possible without public support.

Mrs Higgins said: “Funding is very important because a lot of our swimmers have additional needs, so the parents don’t have that much money, we don’t make a profit at all.

“We usually make a loss every year, so we are always grateful for any grants that come our way.

“I know our teachers and coaches want specialist equipment and that all costs money and we all struggle at the moment.”

Maldon and Burnham Standard: Maggie Hargreave

Lockdown was a tricky period for the charity, like so many others.

Given that some of the swimmers are on the autistic spectrum, the club had to make a special video to show them how exactly things were going to work forward.

Mrs Higgins added: “For some of them lockdown was a complete breakdown.

“Parents haven’t been allowed to watch because we weren’t allowed to have spectators.

“Before Covid, we could have volunteers in the pool with some of our vulnerable swimmers but, of course, we couldn’t have any helpers.

“It had to be a parent or the swimmer couldn’t go into the pool.”

Despite these challenges, the Phoenix Club is still doing its best to help swimmers who need it the most.

The chairwoman added: "The more people can understand and look at the ability of people rather than their disabilities, the better it is.”

The Standard is giving charities like the Phoenix Swimming Club the chance to take a share of a £20,000 giveaway.

Maldon and Burnham Standard: Readers' choice logo

Our publisher Gannett’s charitable arm, the Gannett Foundation, is providing £125,000 in cash to support charities across the country with £20,000 to be allocated in our area.

The swimming charity was awarded £1,552 in 2009 to replace its 15-year-old landing mattresses, which are used to help members get in and out of the pool.

Now we are asking our readers to nominate their favourite local charities to be considered for a grant too.

Simply log-on to and fill in your nomination form.

You can also write to us, confirming the name and address of the charity you’d like to nominate and why to: Readers’ Choice Cash For Charity Nominations, Unit 1 Brunel Court, Brunel Way, Severalls Industrial Estate, Colchester, CO4 9XP, by the closing date of Sunday, October 3, 2021.