Abena Gray Goggle and Giggle

Goggle, Giggle and Abena Gray’s journey

“My business wouldn't be where it is now if it wasn't for Central YMCA seeing my potential as a young black woman and believing in my skills."

Labelling swimming as a ‘life-saving skill’, Abena Gray believes swimming is something we should all be able to excel in- no matter our age, race or physical limitations. Abena started her swim coaching business, Goggle and Giggle, in 2010 after coaching within our Y-Active youth swimming group. She has built a strong reputation, even becoming a finalist at the prestigious Precious Awards for her work as a black woman in business. Abena wants to break down barriers for people into swimming, especially for African and Carribean children who so often don’t swim, people with water phobias and long-term illnesses, and those of varying ages- with her youngest client aged 2 and her eldest aged 84. We are so proud to have been a part of Abena’s journey and look forward to seeing all that she will achieve.

“People applauded me for being able to swim at 10”

“I learned to swim at age 8 as I grew up near rivers and the sea in the Caribbean. It was very much part of our daily lives to swim, and it was something I hugely enjoyed. When I was in the water I felt at ease, relaxed, and less stressed.

We moved to London when I was 10 and this is where my passion for swimming truly blossomed. When we were first taken for swimming lessons, I began doing laps of the pool in different strokes, while my classmates could barely move in the water. People applauded me for being able to swim so well at such a young age, but for me it was very normal.

I joined a squad and began taking part in galas and races, however, as a teenager, I found the training more difficult- I felt I was much more confident being around and partaking in sports with people that looked like me. Many other black children took part in the athletics classes I took, yet I found I was the only black child that took part in competitive swimming, and this made me feel isolated and alone. This is what led me to want to make a difference to who could enjoy swimming.”

“Goggle and Giggle wouldn't be where it is now if it wasn't for YMCA”

“I became a swimming instructor in 2009, whilst also coaching within the Y-Active swimming group- part of Central YMCA’s youth programme. It was through this that I realised how much I enjoyed teaching children and decided to set up Abena’s on-to-one.

Due to a high demand for children to learn to swim I created Goggle and Giggle, which I officially registered as a limited company in October 2010. I wanted to work with children on a one-to-one basis to build their confidence and skill sets as they grew- which is harder to focus on in a group session. I even began teaching the parents of children I taught! I then began setting up squad sessions for these boys and girls as they got better so that they could continue their growth.

I don’t think Goggle and Giggle would be where it is now if it wasn't for Central YMCA- seeing my potential as a young black woman and saying yes, taking a risk but believing in my skills. I still feel supported by the team at YMCA, and the diversity there is beautiful. I’ve never felt judged or uncomfortable- I’ve worked in many other places where I have felt hostility, but there is a great diverse energy at YMCA. The pool at Central YMCA is one of my favourite pools and it will always hold a great place in my heart because that's where my journey started.”

“I want under-privileged people to be able to learn this life-saving skill.”

“My aim for Goggle and Giggle was to give weaker swimmers the opportunity to learn the important skill of swimming in a peaceful and personal environment. Every child learns differently, and there are a lot of phobias surrounding the water, so I wanted to be able to help these children one-on-one with tailored support to break down any barriers they have.

For me, swimming is the only skill that can truly save your life or the life of another, so teaching people this skill can open them up to a world of possibilities- hobbies, careers, sports. Swimming is for everyone, yet there is still such a high amount of African and Caribbean children that are not swimming- it is still an extremely white dominated sport. Going forward I want to get black children swimming and knowing that swimming is as much for them as it is anyone else. I’d also love to see more black swim school owners- I know this would make these children feel so much more welcome in the pool.

There’s still so much that I want to do- I’d love to start a women-only swimming evening, so that women can have a safe space to swim and socialise and enjoy themselves in and around the water. I would also really like to focus on giving young people some form of coaching within Goggle and Giggle, as well as working outside of the pool on helping with mental health.”

“Becoming a finalist in the Precious Awards is definitely one of my proudest moments.”

“I had received a call to say I had been nominated for the Precious Awards and I was just so shocked- I wasn’t used to getting nominated for things. A little while later they approached me again to say that I had made the final two, and even though I didn’t win it felt amazing- It was so nice to be acknowledged after working so hard on my business. I felt honoured to be a finalist with the woman who had won- she had done a lot of charity work and I learnt from this that I would love to offer more charitable opportunities to the community within Goggle and Giggle.”

“When starting a business, you’ll want a mentor.”

“My advice for those wanting to start a business would be that getting a mentor in your field is one of the best investments you’ll make. Shadow them, interact and ask for help. You won’t be judged for asking questions, you’ll only learn, so never feel too shy to ask.

Also, never stop taking risks. You’ll either succeed or you’ll learn from your mistakes, which is so much better than sitting in fear. The world is out there waiting for us!”