Lack of access to local swimming pools is the key factor in a disappointing decline of swimming participation since London 2012.
The Amateur Swimming Association (ASA) confirms, as of June 2015, there were 5,055 public swimming pools in England – that is 61 fewer pools than in 2013.
“The biggest challenge facing the whole leisure market is the lack of funding now available to local authorities,” warns Mark Sesnan, Managing Director at GLL.
“We face a real risk of a ‘perfect storm’ being created,” he adds. “Funding is being cut to public leisure at the same time as there is a huge need for the leisure operators to help address the health and activity agenda.”
He continues: “There’s an illogical assumption that there’s a magic wand out there which would let us maintain low prices for users alongside implementing the National and London Living Wage for our staff whilst also reconciling budget cuts and then with increased health intervention at the same time. This isn’t a sustainable situation for anybody.”
Andrew Clark, National Sports and Aquatics Manager at GLL agrees that the sustainability of pools is a key challenge. He says that with local authority spending cuts and the cost of providing a swim at an average of £10, set against the average cost to customer being less than £4 you can clearly see the level of subsidy required to ensure pools are kept open.
“Operators need to be given the freedom to programme pools to ensure revenue can be maximised at peak times that will allow more targeted community and club use to happen outside of those times. The swimming pool has to be flexible enough to accommodate a broad range of uses,” says Andrew.“
Good programming and innovative product development has been key to us bucking the trend on swimming participation, with growth of 17% on like for like comparisons last year.”
Alyson Zell, Aquatics Business Manager for Freedom Leisure concurs: “There has been a lack of consistent investment in public swimming pools and consequently many of our pools in the UK are now ageing stock.
“There has been addition of new pools over the years but these have not been spread evenly across the country so it may appear is some localities there has been little or no investment but in other areas brand new facilities.”
She adds: “There always appears to be a need for more water space but there are facilities in existence with poor usage. As demographics are so different across the country it is almost impossible to ensure equal access to facilities for all but this does not mean there are not enough pools.”
Fusion Lifestyle in partnership with Southwark Council recently opened the brand new £20m Castle Centre, which features a 25m six-lane pool. The organisation has also been given the green light for the £5m renovation of the City Pool and Turkish Baths in Newcastle, which will commence this year. Meanwhile Edinburgh Leisure’s Dunbrae centre is currently undergoing a £1m refurbishment and is due to re-open in October.
Earlier this summer Oldham’s new £15m leisure centre opened, boasting a 25m eight-lane competition pool with spectator gallery, a separate learner pool, sauna, steam room and wet changing village. FT Leisure was responsible for the water treatment and filtration work for the two pools and worked alongside the main contractor, Willmott Dixon, GT Architects and structural engineers, Ramboll. All work was to specifications aimed at attracting some major county competitions to the venue.
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