Select Committee on Culture, Media and Sport Appendices to the Minutes of Evidence


Memorandum submitted by a Leisure Manager at Gateshead Council

  Comments from a Leisure Manager within the Leisure Activities function of Gateshead Council.

  Gateshead Council own five public pools and two school pools. None of these could be described as historic with the eldest being opened in 1942. The remainder of the pools were opened around the 1970's.

  The Council faces a number of problems in maintaining the pool buildings due to;

    —  the detriation of the building fabric due to the aggressive nature of the pool hall environment and the high levels of use over the years;

    —  the interiors of the building not being easily adapted to modern standards (access for people with disabilities, family friendly environments);

    —  the increasing cost of maintaining the pool buildings as they become older and faults progressively become worse until action is essential;

    —  the premium cost of repairs due to the structure and design of the buildings.

  It is suggested that these problems would apply to an historic pool as well as to those aged between 30 and 40 years old.

  The older pools tend to be rectangular which limits the fun element of the pools which is often required by today's leisure market. The rectangular pool does provide a valuable service in terms of formal swimming ie teaching and club use. The ideal solution is to provide a pool, which can cater for the fun element as well as the formal type of swimming.

  The Council has found it difficult to allocate funding to reinvest in swimming pools to maintain the existing stock or to develop new pools on a replacement basis.

  The poor case presented by leisure professionals and other interested parties in advocating the social benefits of swimming has led to additional funding being difficult to attract leading to swimming pool buildings continuing to deteriorate.

  The National Lottery has undoubtedly assisted in expanding and developing the swimming pool stock.

  Swimming pools are part of a non-statutory service of a local authority but can provide essential recreation for the community. It could be suggested that a swimming pool offers a more diverse range of activities for a community than, say a library and can provide health as well as social inclusion benefits.

  As a leisure is a discretionary service revenue funding can become a difficulty in providing a Best Value service. Funding bodies obviously prioritise spending on the essential services first and then on the discretionary services.

  The local swimming pool tries to cater for the diverse needs of the community. This can range from aqua natal classes to over 50 sessions; learn to swim to high performance competitive swimming, parent and toddler sessions to single sex swimming. Swimming can provide the community with health and social benefits as well as being a LIFE SAVER.

  The needs of the community and those groups who require use of the pool tend to compete for pool space/time. The providers of swimming pools have to be clear as to what they want to achieve from the swimming pool and develop programmes to achieve this. As there are competing demands compromises are reached and no one is entirely satisfied with the outcome.

  Many swimming pools have a swimming club attached to them, which can create a duplication of this type of activity when considering a cluster of pools. Many pool providers have developed a strategy for swimming to attempt to address some of these competing issues. Many local authorities have worked in partnership with swimming clubs to provide a streamlined club structure, which recognises the identity a community has with the local swimming club whilst developing a more effective competitive structure.

  It is currently beyond the scope of Gateshead Council and many other swimming pool providers to cater for the requirements of a high performance swimmer. The investment in providing facilities suitable for high performance swimming can be high but if we want to improve our standing in World swimming then the cost must be borne.

  Swimming is best provided in a modern, well managed facility, which can cater for the needs of the community and for the needs of the high performance swimming. These two groups may not be compatible in every facility but it is clear that these two groups cannot gain maximum benefit by compromise.

  These are the views of a Leisure Manager with Gateshead Council and do not necessarily represent the views of Gateshead Council.

28 November 2001

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