For more information about the Great East Swim, visit greatswim.org/East

MEMBERS of the Suffolk Fire and Rescue Service will be making a splash at Suffolk's biggest open water swimming event next week as part of their charity fundraising efforts.

Fourteen team members are taking on the Great East Swim on Saturday 23 June and the Simplyhealth Great East Run on Sunday 16 September, raising money for Mind, the mental health charity.

Several members are taking part in both events, with 12 taking on the swim and six running the half marathon which returns for its second year.

The team is made up of personnel from across the Suffolk Fire and Rescue service with the chief fire officer Mark Hardingham also diving in for the mass participation swimming event at Alton Water.

Station commander Sally Hammond is heading up the team, and said: “We're all very much looking forward to it. It's a case of nervous anticipation for many of us. We're hoping for good weather and no wind to make it choppy.

“We're all at different abilities, doing different distances. A lot of the group are not natural swimmers yet there are some experienced ones too – it's a real mixed bag.”

Suffolk Fire and Rescue Service took part last year, raising £4,000 for Mind, and Sally explained why the team are keen to return to the water this year.

“It's about raising money and raising awareness,” she said. “They run the Blue Light Programme which works with emergency service personnel on breaking down the stigma around mental health issues.

“It's something very close to our hearts, as we lost one of our retired officers to suicide 18 months ago. I lost my own brother two years ago to suicide.

“A lot of our people taking part have their own reasons for doing it.

“The main focus for us is raising awareness and getting people to talk about mental health illness.

“Men in particular find it hard to talk about it – we need to break down the stigma. Mind have their Time To Change pledge which we're very supportive of."

The team will join more than 2,000 fellow swimmers on the day as the Great East Swim celebrates its tenth birthday. Launching as a one-mile swim in 2009, the event has grown and offers a range of distances from a 250m beginners' swim through to the 10K distance.

Sally added: “We're used to climbing ladders but diving into the open water is very different. It's going to be a challenge for many of us but we're ready for it and looking forward to the day.”

As well as those taking part in the open water swim, Suffolk Fire and Rescue will be in attendance at the event with a prevention stand, providing water safety advice.

For more information about the Great East Swim, visit greatswim.org/East