Mum of much-loved 25-year-old Leeds teacher who died while swimming in River Aire backs water safety campaign

The mum of a much-loved 25-year-old Leeds teacher who died after drowning in the River Aire has backed a new campaign calling on people to stay out of the water - and called for greater education in schools to save lives.

By Daniel Sheridan
Thursday, 28th April 2022, 10:26 am

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Lewis Howlett, 25, worked as a teacher at Farnley Academy before his tragic death in May 2020.

Lewis got into difficulty swimming in the water off Redcote Lane, Kirkstall on a Saturday night.

Lewis Howlett, 25, worked as a teacher at Farnley Academy before his tragic death in May 2020.

His friends called the emergency services but he sadly lost his life and his body was found the following morning.

Following his death, students at Farnley Academy - where he worked as an English teacher - were left distraught.

Principal Chris Stokes described Mr Howlett as "an absolute rising star" and said his ability to teach was "astonishing".

Now, his mum Joanne Howlett, 57, has spoken for the first time two years on in tribute to her "intelligent, ambitious" son.

Lewis Howlett, 25, worked as a teacher at Farnley Academy before his tragic death in May 2020.

She has called for more education in schools regarding water safety and said if Lewis had seen a similar campaign, his death could have been prevented.

Yorkshire Water has relaunched the Be Water Aware campaign with the National Fire Chiefs Council calling on visitors to stay out of reservoirs.

The campaign, which is also backed by the Yorkshire-based Fire and Rescue Services, aims to encourage sensible behaviour around water, particularly for those who may never intend to enter the water.

The latest figures indicate almost 50 per cent of the 254 accidental drowning deaths in 2020 had no intention of entering the water.

Joanne, who now lives in Norwich but is originally from Essex where Lewis grew up, said Lewis "loved his life" and "made a difference to so many lives".

His legacy continues through his sister Olivia, Joanne said, who is also now working in schools and warning all her own students about water safety.

"I wouldn't want any family to go through the pain and heartbreak that we are going through", Joanne told the YEP.

"We have told our story to many young people, my daughter Olivia works in a school and warns all of her students of the dangers of swimming in open water.

"Even if you can swim you have no idea what is happening beneath the surface, or how dramatically the extreme cold can affect your body.

"I am certain that if Lewis had seen the campaign or had spoken to somebody about the dangers, he would still be with us."

Almost two-thirds of the accidental drownings in 2020 occurred at inland sites and the NFCC campaign outlines that many people underestimate the risk of jumping into cold water, with the effects of cold water shock and not knowing how to self-rescue causing even the strongest swimmers to get into difficulties.

Yorkshire Water continues to see people entering its 130 reservoirs on a daily basis, despite warnings about the dangers reservoirs can pose, such as cold water shock, hidden undercurrents and operating machinery.

Joanne said Lewis grew up in Essex before moving to study at the University of York.

He then moved to Leeds to work as a teacher at the Farnley Academy, where he was adored by teachers.

"Lewis was a very intelligent, ambitious young man who was loving life and living his dream of being an English teacher", Joanne said.

"Lewis made a difference to so many lives, as a caring friend, a brilliant teacher, a volunteer and a support for the most vulnerable."

Farnley Academy has named the library in their school after Lewis and set up an award in his memory.

Speaking at the time, Chris Stokes, Principal, said Lewis was 'known and respected by all'.

Mr Stokes said: “Lewis’ ability to teach English was just astonishing.

"Having personally witnessed him teach on a number of occasions he sought every opportunity to bring the subject to life.

“Lewis promoted literacy and a love of reading to all and had a unique ability to engage even the most disengaged reader.

"Such was the quality of Lewis’ teaching, after just 12 months working in the academy, Lewis took on his first management responsibility as a ‘Teaching & Learning Leader’.

“Coupled with this, Lewis volunteered to lead the school in our efforts to promote Oracy through our Trust wide Voice21 programme.

“Whilst standing in Lewis’ classroom this morning, admiring his wall of thank you cards from students, it is so abundantly clear that Lewis had so much more to give and had he had the opportunity would have gone on to achieve great things for our school and the wider teaching profession.

“Our community is absolutely devastated by his untimely death.”

Joanne said her family were "so overwhelmed by the love and support" that they had received.

In Lewis' memory, Joanne has raised more than £8,000 for charity.

She has now called for more education on water safety to take place in schools across Leeds and beyond.

Joanne added: "The Be Water Aware campaign is exactly what is needed to raise awareness of the dangers of swimming in open waters, it would be good if other parts of the country did the same.

"Considering the number of fatalities each year, educating young people in water safety should be high on the list of priorities in our schools and also in public places and on TV as young adults should also be made aware of the dangers.

"Anything to encourage people to think twice before getting into the water would help, more warning signs, posters, adverts, catch phrases, it would be amazing to find a way to include just a small section in the school curriculum."

Joanne said Lewis "achieved so much in his 25 years".

She said: "We are extremely proud of him but he has missed out on so many hopes and dreams, I would hate to see another wonderful life taken in such a shocking and devastating way.

"Our lives are changed forever."

Yorkshire Water said it has further enhanced its water safety education programme for children across Yorkshire in recent months.

Live events and virtual lessons are available for children at Key Stages 2, 3 and 4.

Aligned to Swim England’s water safety advice, the events inform children how to keep themselves and their friends safe near open water and explain the hidden dangers in reservoirs, rivers, canals and seas.

Yorkshire Water’s education team also explain ‘Float to Live’ lifesaving technique and what to do in an emergency situation.