The last 18 months have been tough on pools, writes Brian Guthrie for PWTAG. The cost of having pools closed and then reopening them safely – twice – has been immense.
Running public pools is expensive anyway and keeping them ticking over ,with no revenue, has cost millions. So where do we stand, and what does the future hold, for PWTAG as well as pools?
Pre-Covid there were 5,074 pools of all types listed with Swim England and Sport England. Today 249 of these are still closed – a 5% loss. All but 43 of these hope to reopen.
Of the 1,035 public pools that Swim England deal with, 935 are open again. So 82 (8%) are not. Ten are permanently closed, their facilities for ever denied to thousands of swimmers. It could be worse (at the end of 2020, hundreds of permanent closures were predicted) and participation rates are healthy. People still want to swim, reassured that it’s safe as well as healthy. That reassurance is thanks to a lot of work, again at a cost.
Thanks to research by the Yorkshire Post, it’s possible to see what the personal costs can be. The headline figure is that pool closures mean that Yorkshire is the equivalent of 39 pools down on the south. That bit of the north has 118 public pools, a total of 867 square metres per 100,000 people; the south have over 1,000sq m.
Providing public pools is not a statutory duty, and central government funding for local authorities has decreased, often favouring southern councils. Otley pool, for example, is half funded by Leeds council, who say they can’t afford it any more. If it closes, users must hope that Bradford continues to fund Ilkley pool.
Keeping pools safe has required a lot of work. HSE, Swim England etc have played their part of course. Their funding is secure. As reported here before, PWTAG has been key. A series of technical notes on covid, updated as necessary; an international online conference; collaborating on vital research.
Meanwhile its core work has continued: The free code of practice has been updated; the Poolmark scheme is expanding, linked with important work on training standards. And throughout, PWTAG fields queries from all sides – councils, operators, swimmers etc.
All this if fuelled by the voluntary efforts of its experts and funded, just about, by sales of its books and a few subscriptions from various membership sources. No government funding – but we’re working on it.