There is a special place off a dock in Helsinki, Finland – a hole in the ice. This small area of exposed water is the centre of a community who meet up in person and online to share their passion for ice swimming. Unlike other winter swim spots, there is no sauna here: just a bench, some hooks attached to the fence, and a small clearing in the frozen sea.

The man behind the community is ice swimming enthusiast Mikko, who moved to the area six years ago. Keen to find people to share his hobby, he set up a Facebook group, which today has over 600 members.

For some it’s just refreshing, for others it’s meditative, and for others still it acts almost like a medicine. “It helps with my anxiety,” one young woman tells me. The hardest part is not swimming in the water, which ranges from between 0 and 3 degrees C in a normal winter. The challenge is getting out and braving the air, which can reach -20 degrees. “It’s so cold and your body has to fight against it, so you can’t be anywhere else with your mind,” says another woman, Tuuli, who comes here to release tension before or after work.

Because of the very cold weather, it would take just a few days for the hole to disappear into the surrounding ice. To prevent this, the group organises a meeting time for avantotalkot (voluntary work to clear the ice) and people get together to reshape and enlarge the hole. This sense of community, as well as the health benefits of ice swimming, has meant that during lockdown the hole has been a lifeline for many.

Alessandro Rampazzo is an Italian photojournalist based in Finland.