The aunt of teenage boy who lost his life while swimming is pleading with parents and families to make sure their children are aware of the dangers of open water swimming.

William McNally died on 5th June 2021 after getting into difficulty at an area known as the Clay Pits in the River Gryffe, near Linwood.

Despite the rescue attempts of his friends and the emergency services, William lost his life a few days later – but his family are determined his death will help to save others from facing the same pain.

Photo: William with his mum Sharron

Jayne Drennan, William’s aunt, and her sisters have campaigned since he died to raise awareness of water safety but are still struggling to come to terms with their loss.

Jayne said: “Since William’s accident, we continue to struggle knowing that he is gone, and we won’t be able to see him again. Coping feels impossible on some days. Others are slightly more bearable but all in all, it’s a real living nightmare.

“Our lives have been changed forever. Things wont and can’t ever be the same again and William’s loss has left a hole in our lives that cannot be filled.

“It sounds like a cliché but there isn’t a minute of the day that we don’t think about William, he is my first thought in the morning and last thought at night.

“There are a lot of whys? And what ifs? which is exceptionally painful and difficult to manoeuvre, both individually and as a family, so we are essentially just trying to get through the days and trying to maintain some sort of ‘normal’ for the children in the family.

“We are blessed with having a close and supportive family as without that, I don’t know if we could manage or cope at all.”

Photo: Jayne and Claire Drennan

Since the accident, the family have been at the forefront of a drive to educate people about the dangers of swimming in open water.

“Water safety has become incredibly important to myself and my family. In all honesty, prior to William’s accident, I was probably naive as to how important water safety initiatives and education are and should be.

“This is paramount to us as a family now – William’s death was preventable and that’s really difficult to carry. Promoting water safety and highlighting the risks of open water to others has given us some focus and purpose in the aftermath of what’s happened.

“Our hearts sink at every report of another drowning, it’s really triggering, and we need to see a reduction in the numbers of people losing their lives to accidental drowning. Water safety has become a huge part of our lives and it’s a campaign and a fight that we will continue.”

The education of young people is a priority for Jayne and her sisters as they try to minimise the chance of another family experiencing what they have had to since William’s passing two years ago.

“We’re not naive to think young people won’t try to swim in open water, but they need to consider their surroundings, where they are and if there is rescue equipment nearby, and have a plan in case something goes wrong.

“Kids need to be careful and aware of the risks. Young people can be really confident swimmers which can contribute to a false sense of security and ability when it comes to open water.

“Peer pressure can be an issue so I would ask everyone to make sure their children know what happened to William and ensure their kids recognise the dangers of what could happen to them or their friends if they don’t respect the water.”

Today marks World Drowning Prevention Day and buildings across Renfrewshire will be lit up in blue to remember William and all others who have lost their lives in drowning accidents and seeing this in his memory is something that gives Jayne great comfort.

“It’s extremely important we remember William as a person as he was an amazing young boy in life and equally as amazing in death.

“We will all love and remember William forever, as will the people and families whose lives he saved by donating his organs – a decision that was his even at such a young age.

“Even though we have lost him from our lives, his legacy lives on in others and we are extremely proud of our boy.

“William remains a part of our family and he always will. He is very much present in our lives and too precious not to remember as the boy he was and young man he always will be.”

Since the accident, and to help William leave a legacy, the council has worked closely with William’s family to install more GPS signage at waterways and more public rescue equipment at waterways identified as having the potential for wild swimming.

The council has also supported partners to provide water safety training sessions, like cold water shock response, lifesaving, and first aid, as well as ensuring schools receive talks and information on how to stay safe around water.

A powerful water safety film was commissioned last year that spoke to Jayne and other members of the family about the accident and it has been shared with primary and secondary schools in Renfrewshire, as well as the local community.

Councillor Marie McGurk, Convener of Renfrewshire Council’s Communities and Housing Policy Board, said: “William’s death was a tragic accident that has affected so many people across Renfrewshire, but the campaigning work that his family have carried out since he passed away has made a real impact and will leave a lasting legacy.

“We’re committed to making our waterways as safe as possible and have provided more lifesaving equipment, including GPS signage, rings and poles, as well as looking to educate people about the dangers of open water swimming.

“I would encourage everyone to watch the video that Jayne and her sister were so brave to be a part of last year and pass on the messaging within it as we want to ensure that no more lives are lost to drowning – and we’ll continue to all we can to prevent it from happening.”

Renfrewshire Council has more information on water safety, visit

Photo: Bascule Bridge in Renfrew was previously lit up in blue for World Drowning Prevention Day

Photo: Johnstone Bandstand lit up in blue for World Drowning Prevention Day last year

Photo: Renfrew Town Hall lit up in blue for World Drowning Prevention Day, also last year

By Ricky Kelly

Main writer for Renfrewshire News

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