Jenna-Lea Alston, a 26-year-old former swimming teacher with Oldham Community Leisure (OCL), has swapped her swimming goggles for PPE, working as a frontline nurse at Tameside Hospital during the coronavirus pandemic.

The Shaw-based nurse studied for her degree at Manchester Metropolitan University and went on to get a job as an anaesthetic and recovery nurse working in operating theatres.

Prior to becoming a nurse, Jenna-Lea worked as a swimming teacher at Oldham Leisure Centre. She says: “I used to swim for Oldham Aquatics when I was younger. As I grew up I didn’t want to dedicate all my time to club training, but still loved being connected to the pool, so I decided to train as a teacher. I gained all my qualifications just before my 18th birthday.

“I just loved it. I loved the kids; I loved the classes. If a child is engaged in their learning their confidence builds without them even realising, so I always made my lessons fun. I was still at school when I started with OCL and, eventually, I worked for them full-time teaching kids and adults, as well as doing private 1-2-1s with children who had special needs. It’s inspiring to think that I helped someone gain a valuable life skill that could potentially save their life.  

“I love to swim, how it makes me feel and keeps me fit. It is my ‘go to’ exercise. I know a lot of people who are missing swimming whilst our leisure centres are closed.”

Jenna-Lea believes her qualification and teaching experience has helped with her confidence and her ability to manage behaviour, plus given her valuable experience of working with the general public. 

Jenna-Lea even continued to teach swimming whilst studying for her nursing degree. “As a student I was studying full time, doing 37.5 hours a week as a student nurse on placement and still teaching swimming. I must love the water and the kids! It’s only since I got my job at Tameside Hospital that I’ve had to give it up.” 

Jenna-Lea continues: “At this moment in time, nursing is especially hard; I miss seeing carefree kids in the pool. There are easy days and bad days; I know we’re not supposed to get attached to patients, but nurses always care so there’s going to be emotion involved, we can’t help it. I’ve had days working within the emergency intubation team and the emergency tracheotomy team during the pandemic and have also worked nights on ICU to help out, doing 12.5-hour shifts. It’s really demanding, tiring work. Wearing PPE all day is so hot and means I get a sore nose. But I’m so proud of myself and my hardworking colleagues.

“Do I miss the kids and the pool? Absolutely! Swimming is a life skill and I got a buzz from teaching it. It’s a fantastic career for someone that wants a flexible work/life balance. I’ve still got the qualifications and I’d love to go back one day. Working at Oldham Leisure Centre was like being part of a big family; I got so much life experience.”


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