A special report from the Pool & Spa Scene team…
Combined voices are calling for commercial swimming pools to be recognised as essential services as leisure operators reel under the third enforced closure since the outbreak of the coronavirus crisis. The national closure of swimming pools through the third compulsory lockdown has resulted in a huge major impact on swimming. The costs involved in hibernating swimming pools are extensive, particularly when coupled with the loss of income for pool operators. Swim England estimate that, when the latest lockdown was triggered, almost 200 public pools had still not reopened following the first lockdown in March 2020. “We understand the need for the Government to take difficult actions as we don’t want to see our NHS being overwhelmed,” says Swim England Chief Executive Jane Nickerson.
“However, it is vital that pools are recognised as an essential service for the health and wellbeing of the nation and are reopened as soon as possible,” she adds. “The longer pools remain shut, the greater the risks that many will never reopen their doors. This would be devastating for the millions of people who swim in England each year and for our fantastic swimming, diving, water polo and artistic swimming clubs.” Public pools are vital community hubs, say Swim England, helping people lead healthier and happier lives and saving the NHS more than £357 million each year. “We campaigned vocally for financial support for our pools and the Government’s £100 million National Leisure Recovery Fund is most welcome and a step in the right direction” says Jane. “This money should reach pools in the coming weeks and will make a real difference,” she continues. “However, it is clear that the continued lockdown and restrictions mean that many of our pools still face a very uncertain future and so we will continue to work to ensure that appropriate support is made available to pools to help them through the
“When restrictions are lifted again, I wonder how many pools will start back up straight away, or will it be a slow gradual return to operation,” Steve ponders. “I can see the private sector returning first; the gyms, health clubs, holiday parks and hotels where the draw of the pool and general leisure facilities will aid in generating income for the operators. “The public sector may be a little longer to return to operation as with financial pressures across services are pools going to be a top priority, I hope so for our general health wellbeing and getting our children and families enjoying swimming again that they will be viewed as an essential part of getting society active again.”
Dyfed Thomson Smith, General Manager for AstralPool UK agrees: “The commercial market is swinging like an unpredictable pendulum with shutdowns at short notice,” he points out. “The uncertainty is not helping although by the time we came to the third lockdown, public pool operators were familiar with the necessary procedures involved. “We are seeing people taking the opportunity to get updated work undertaken prior to Easter mostly involving plant room upgrades and media changes,” Dyfed reveals. “There is plenty of demand for quotations but it is a difficult market gauge with see-sawing in terms of government actions, it is unclear yet whether local government are going to relook at leisure budgets as they tighten strings.”
Steve Nelson agrees and believes the implications are that budgets will be tight for a while and only essential maintenance and breakdowns will be covered. “It will be interesting to see after this current lockdown the demand for equipment in the commercial sector,” he says. “A lot of this will be again determined how the pools have been left over this current lockdown and in some cases since March. “Will we see an influx of pumps that have stopped working, valves that have rusted open or closed, chemical dosing systems that probes have dried out and filters leaking? “ However, Steve believes, some positives will come from this over the short to medium term. He points out: “Staycations will continue to be a popular choice, as although the vaccine will be being rolled out and travel will be allowed, not all countries are keeping pace with our programme, and people may choose to stay in the UK for the summer of 2021 to avoid the risk of quarantining if outbreaks “Therefore, investment will continue in 2021 and into 2022 to tempt you to book stays at places that have up to date facilities for the pools and wellness areas.” Steve continues:
“We also will have built up about a year of backlog of essential maintenance, refurbishment and investment in facilities that we will see these works taking place over the next 18-24 months. “It is worth mentioning the associated areas linked to the pool such as the spas, sauna and steam rooms that we have seen the same situation during the lockdowns and also the same pent-up demand for investment. “We will not see the spike of demand like we did in the residential market for works but it will be more of a steady release of works as funds become available and confidence returns to invest in these facilities. And Steve adds: “Confidence will return, the swimming pool is a safe environment and an enjoyable activity that aids mental health and physical activity that all ages can enjoy. “It is a stable of our lives, from our children having swimming lessons to one of the key criteria when looking at where to book for a few days away or a longer vacation and for general health and fitness.” Lower bather numbers had led to huge revenues losses for pool operators.
“We at HTH® have tried to help as much as possible with free training and frequent webinars for any pool operator to ensure they have the latest and most up to date information,” says David Parry, HTH®UK and Ireland Technical Sales Manager. David urges his customers to ensure they have followed the latest PWTAG advice on closing down the pools. The latest Technical notes have been a collaboration from the PWTAG council, technical forum and suppliers to the industry. “I would also ensure users of HTH® should empty and clean any dosing equipment and make sure dosing lines and injector points have been cleaned,” David advises. “Even though a forced closure is an unwelcome strain on the industry there is a silver lining as it is the perfect time to give everything in the plant room a check and carry out any important works,” says David. “One action that we recommend is inspecting the filter sand and using a cleaning product if needed.”
The UK Pool & Spa Awards 2020 Water Leisure Operator of the year, GLL runs 140 pools including many of the country’s most iconic water facilities including the London Aquatics Centre, Manchester Aquatics Centre, London Fields and Jesus Green Lidos and West Reservoir. “We prioritise our customers’ physical health and mental wellbeing and accessing our facilities is so important for many of them to maintain this,” says Andrew Clark, GLL’s National Sports & Aquatics Manager. “While we look forward to welcoming them back as soon as we are able to, in the meantime we have frozen all payments and have given them free access to a library of workouts and training tips that they can undertake at home,” Andrew continues. “During the last lockdown we introduced a number of Swimming related webinars which were well received by customers and featured experts like Duncan Goodhew MBE giving advice on dryland swimming exercises. We will be announcing another schedule shortly.
With no income coming in during what would be their busiest time of the year, the furlough scheme has saved thousands of jobs across the industry. Andrew explains: “We have a skeleton structure in place to maintain key areas of the organisation and undertake building checks. “Staff are kept up to date with regular newsletters and there is also a schedule of online CPD which they can access.
“We are very proud of how staff have supported each other and their local communities during the Covid epidemic and there are great stories of local challenges, fund raising and volunteering that our staff have either organised or been engaged in.” The majority of GLL pools were put into hibernation to avoid ongoing costs. Utilising pool covers reduced the cost of reheating and the GLL facility management team monitor temperatures and pool quality constantly to ensure the team do not encounter any issues when it comes to reopening. “Never in our lifetimes have we had to close all of our facilities and to have to reopen them again en masse,” Andrew points out. “To do so not once but three times in the period of six months has been a learning curve but it’s a challenge that we have risen to and we have led from the front, putting the safety of our customers and staff at the centre of every decision.
GLL have been fully engaged with the Government and national Governing Bodies to develop industry guidancefor reopening and have continued to lead Industry thinking in terms of programming and the sustainability of pools in the post COVID environment. Says Andrew: “We are hoping to be able to reopen with the majority of services that were available in Tier 3 as a minimum, but as we have seen with each Government announcement, we have learnt to build in multiple options and keep plans fluid! “We are looking forward to welcoming our customers back,”emphasises Andrew. “The Health and Fitness Industry will be an essential part of the nation’s recovery and as a social enterprise which exists for the benefits of the community, we will be focussed on supporting their needs. “The costs of providing activities like swimming are considerable and public sector facilities are facing some key challenges around sustainability that has been fast tracked by Covid. “More support for these swimming facilities is required if the UK is to maintain access to local and affordable provision.