NE Scotland, Orkney & Shetland

Seriously ill children swimming with mermaids in Aberdeen

Alannah being held by lady in a pool with mermaid tail
Image caption Swimming is said to be Alannah's best option for exercise

Two-year-old Alannah has a rare lung condition that means she cannot use public pools - but thanks to the work of one woman, she has been able to swim with mermaids.

Alannah's condition means she has to have a 24/7 supply of oxygen and needs to be fed through a tube. She is unable to walk distances, and has to use a wheelchair.

Each week, Alannah and her family make the 30-mile journey from their home in Boddam, Aberdeenshire, to Aberdeen to take part in special swimming sessions run by Love Rara.

The experience with the mermaids and the swimming lessons that follow are free.

Zara Grant, the company's managing director, and her mermaids donate their own time to children who are unwell.

Image caption Staff who work on the mermaid swim donate their own time, and there is no cost for the families of seriously ill or disabled children

"It was a part of a lot of children's bucket lists to swim with the mermaids," Zara told BBC Scotland's The Nine.

"That's why I first started it, so I could create these magical memories that parents can have forever.

"It allows children to come in and have memories or even just a day out at the pool with their family to have that normality while they're going through their treatment."

Zara undertook training as a swimming instructor so she would be able to safely work with the children in the water.

Alannah is only able to get into a special area of the pool. Due to the oxygen supply that she needs constantly, she would be at risk if people pulled on her tube, so the area is closed to the public while Alannah is in the water.

Watching Alannah swim, her mother Lauren Norris says: "It's amazing to see, considering a couple of years ago we didn't think we'd ever get her in the water. It helps her a lot, she's getting exercise for her hyper-mobility.

"She can't go running or do gymnastics or dancing or other things kids her age can do, so I think swimming is the definitely the best option for Alannah."

Image caption The business has a number of donated dry suits that allow children like Eileidh to be able to swim safely

The first sessions took place in 2017, after a child with cancer, Eileidh Paterson, made a bucket list when her illness became terminal. Swimming with mermaids was on it.

"It's obviously upsetting for Eileidh's family because she's passed but at least they have this memory now that they can keep forever," says Zara.

"It's really hard, because I do get close to the families. I used to see Eileidh a lot so you do get a really good connection with the children, but I look at the positives - the fact I got to give them those memories."

Alannah's family is grateful to Zara for the time they can now spend in the pool.

'Proved everyone wrong'

"The bond between Zara and Alannah is amazing. Zara goes above and beyond to make sure everything's safe for Alannah," says mum Lauren.

"It's amazing to see how far Alannah's come over the last two years. She's proved everyone wrong so far. I don't even think about half the things we do now. But when you look back a year ago, we struggled.

"We don't know what the future holds - if she's going to be on oxygen for the rest of her life, if she's going to be tube-fed for the rest of her life, if she's going to need a wheelchair for the rest of her life - we just don't know.

"We're just taking each day as it comes."

Image caption Alannah's mum Lauren blogs about her daughter's illness using a Facebook page, Alannah's Diary

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