Water Babies franchise is making a splash

Paul Thompson plunged straight into the deep end when he turned his favourite father / daughter pastime into Water Babies, the national baby swimming franchise

Water Babies franchise is making a splash

Life used to be very different for Paul Thompson, owner of Water Babies, the national baby swimming franchise. After giving up a high-powered job in 1999 and travelling to the Caribbean, he became a stay-at-home dad to daughter Imani. Relishing the chance to spend time with his daughter, their days would always be jam-packed with activities.

“I took her to a variety of baby-related classes, one of which was baby swimming,” he recalls. “Her physical and mental development was amazing. I just saw her accelerating away. It was the thing I looked forward to doing most all week.”

The experience whet his appetite and Thompson soon signed up as an instructor. The lightbulb moment followed. “It was a life-changing moment for me and I realised I had real empathy and was absolutely born to do this thing called baby swimming which is quite funny, if you know me,” he laughs. The entrepreneur within Thompson swiftly surfaced and he began looking into the business of baby swimming.

The family relocated to Ilkley, Yorkshire, and decided the time was right to launch their own baby swimming business – unaware of the long voyage ahead. “We were just going to have a few classes but it went nuts and exploded around us,” says Thompson. “And that’s where it all began, in June 2002.”

The business of dunking toddlers under water, as one might envisage, would require some serious know-how and consideration; Thompson and wife Jess dived straight into research.

“There were no standards and very little professionalism around it, which was quite frightening,” he says. “We started to put all that in place. Right from the word go, we were determined to be as professional as we could be.

We created systems and standards and put a lot of structure into it. We travelled the world clocking up lots of ideas and information – both scientific research and what people are doing – in order to put our programme together.””

The company now works closely with the governing body and even developed a diploma in baby swimming, meaning interested parties can a gain qualification as they would in engineering. “But only through Water Babies,” Thompson interjects.

With the boxes ticked on research and developing a comprehensive baby swimming programme, Water Babies launched with a meagre £5,000. “We put everything into our branding, our websites, and leaflets and so on,” says Thompson.

They may be water pros, but the founders also put in some serious leg work on dry land. “We ran around the streets giving out leaflets,” Thompson recalls. “Jess had a background in PR so we did local PR as well. We take underwater photographs of babies swimming, quite powerful images, and we got a lot of free press.”

Dara Jegede
Dara Jegede