An 'inspirational' woman who volunteers to help swimmers on top of her busy job working with refugees was presented with a national award on television.

Megan Allen, who lives in Hornsey Park Road, has won the BBC’s Unsung Hero Award for her contribution to community sport in London. 

She was presented with the award live on BBC 1 television and on radio on Tuesday, December 12.

The 30-year-old has been volunteering with We Swim, an organisation dedicated to giving more people with disabilities in London the chance to swim, with cheap, accessible pool sessions.

She said: "I started about two years ago. I did a bit of volunteering during the pandemic with the vaccine distribution and I wanted to do something I was more passionate about," she said.

"I've been swimming my whole life and I found We Swim was a perfect fit. Within a few weeks it became a regular pattern."

She began volunteering at the group's Old Street, Islington sessions at Ironmonger Row Baths, then moved to Tottenham Green Pools and Fitness in Philip Lane, where she became volunteer manager, making sure there were enough volunteers and coaches and "ensuring everyone was comfortable".

In January she moved to Park Road Pools & Fitness, in Crouch End, where around eight volunteers support 10 swimmers, most of whom have disabilities, in sessions every Monday.

She said the work was similar in some ways to her day job helping refugees, though rewarding in a different way.

She said her role as an operations manager for Hackney Migrant Centre is "quite challenging" with current government changes and how we move forward to help people.

She added: "It's quite similar though, it's front facing, you get a lot of interaction with people which is big driver for me.

"I hold a lot more responsibility with my day job than I do with the swimmers, but the swimming part is comfort and joy.

"The session on a Monday is outreach in the community, they come to socialise so everything about the session is quite joyous. You get to have two hours of chatting, having fun, it's a nice Monday night switch-off."

Megan was nominated for the award by We Swim director Natasha Fleming. She said: “Megan really stands out as an unsung hero." 

She described how Megan turns up "every week without fail" to support swimmers who might need mobility support like wheelchairs or walkers, be unable to speak following a stroke, or have learning disabilities or other hidden disabilities.  

Natasha added: "Many swimmers have ongoing issues to face, whether it’s constant pain, transport challenges or long-term illness or financial difficulties, but when they come together with Megan they are a smiling, friendly group and her influence has meant they support each other outside their sessions too, messaging each other throughout the week.

“Megan is always found having a laugh and is the perfect leader.  She inspires others and helps people be the best they can be – we need more Megans in the world!”

BBC London sports reporter Chris Slegg said: “There were a huge number of really worthy nominees but what really stood out in the nomination we received for Megan was the transformative effect she’s clearly had on so many swimmers.

"She obviously has a wonderful ability to get the best out of other people and everyone she coaches holds her in such high regard.”

We Swim is looking for support with fundraising to continue with the club and open more sessions.

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