Remembering Steve Franks

Remembering Steve Franks

Steve was group CEO and managing director of innovative swim experience company Water Babies, which he joined in 2009. His leadership and drive were instrumental in Water Babies’ becoming a world leader and authority in teaching babies and toddlers to swim.

During his time at Water Babies the company expanded across the globe, with a presence in 6 countries, teaching over 50,000 babies and toddlers from China to Canada. His drive and innovative management helped the business to many awards, including the British Franchise Association’s ‘Franchisor of the Year’ gold award in 2016.

Steve also worked in partnership with Swim England and other bodies to ensure the safest possible environment for baby and pre-school aquatic teaching and helped create a British Standards Institute code of practice for the safe delivery of baby swimming.

Throughout his career, Steve was passionate about giving back to the sector. He was a founding member of the Children’s Activities Association, the first not-for-profit, an industry-led organisation aiming to raise standards in all organised children's activities across the UK.

In 2019 he was a founder of the Children First campaign, which lobbied the government effectively to provide a voice for the under 5s and to put the interests of children at the heart of public policy.

He also served on the board of trustees for Active Partnership Energize STW and as a board member of the ukactive Kids’ Council.

CIMSPA CEO Tara Dillon paid her own tribute to Steve:

“Steve has been a great supporter of CIMSPA over the years and before that ILAM. As a chartered fellow, Steve was highly regarded as one of the trailblazers in professionalising our wonderful sector. He will be dearly missed.

“I have personally known Steve for many years and counted him among one of the greatest leaders in our sector, and a true friend.”

Steve Franks began his career as a 21-year-old lifeguard before putting himself through higher education, starting at Newcastle College. He completed a postgraduate diploma in management studies and went on to study for an MBA at Staffordshire University. Steve continued learning throughout his career and in 2018 graduated from the London Stock Exchange’s Elite program at Imperial College Business School.

His first management role came in 1997 with his appointment as a leisure services manager with Lichfield District Council, Steve spent over 20 years in senior management roles, across both private and public sectors. including work in the Middle East and the Caribbean for both government NGOs. Prior to moving to Water Babies, he spent 6 years as operations director of the Swimming Teachers Association.

Steve joined CIMSPA in 2011 and became a chartered fellow in 2015. He was also recognised as a chartered manager by the Chartered Management Institute in 2012.

Tributes to Steve from around the sector

Water Babies

Paul Thompson, the founder of Water Babies, has written a very moving tribute to his colleague and friend.


RLSS UK’s Director of Commercial Operations, Jo Talbot:

“I was saddened to hear of the passing of Steve Franks. It was a pleasure to work collaboratively with Steve. His passion and enthusiasm for both Water Babies and the sector were inspiring, and he shared RLSS UK’s core ambition – for people to enjoy water, safely, to prevent drowning.

“His work, developing highly developed swimming programmes for babies and pre-school children leaves a legacy, one which RLSS UK will continue to champion."


ukactive Chair Tanni Grey-Thompson and ukactive Kids Council Chair Adrian Packer:

“The Board and team at ukactive are devastated by the news that Steve Franks has passed away, and our hearts go out to his family and the team at Water Babies. His contribution to improving the health of children will always be recognised, as CEO of the hugely successful swim school organisation, or through his leadership as part of the ukactive Kids Council.

“Steve’s passion and energy for changing children’s lives inspired us all. He is a huge loss to our movement, and we will be more determined than ever to deliver his ambition to improve our children’s health.”

Energize STW Active Partnership

Energize CEO Chris Child:

“For Steve to be prepared to share some of his time and expertise with a local Active Partnership tells you a lot about the kind of guy he was. And he didn’t just turn up, he was always contributing - helping us to shape the culture, guest speaking at our events and always mentoring and nurturing.”



A message from Paul Thompson, founder, Water Babies

Steve believed passionately about the importance of early childhood development and how this set the course for the whole life that follows. He was determined that he would make a real difference in establishing this agenda in peoples consciousness and particularly where it matter at all strategic levels across our society right up to Cabinet where Steve’s ultimate goal was to see a Minister for Children. To this end Steve, in partnership with a broad array of others, set up The Children’s First Alliance which he launched in the Houses of Parliament last year, and who better than Steve himself to set out its ambition – please watch this link:

The Children’s Alliance is in its infancy but we are more determined than ever that it will become the centre piece of Steve’s legacy. Just prior to his passing Steve was working on the first funding round for the Children’s Alliance and it is his families ardent wish that this be continued and so to this end they would be extremely grateful if all donations are put towards this cause. Donations can be made to Water Babies, who will pass these onto the Children’s Alliance as soon as their financial systems are in place.

The bank account details are below:
Account name: WBX Limited
No: 06348041
Sort Code: 18-00-02

All donations no matter what the size are welcome and please do reference yourselves when making your transfer as the family would very much like to thanks all contributors personally.

Photo credit: Water Babies

Incorporated by Royal Charter Charity registration number 1144545

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