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


Memorandum submitted by Bedfordshire Amateur Swimming Association

  The Bedfordshire ASA wishes to address two of the issues identified by the Culture Media and Sport Committee of the House of Commons in its study of the Sport of Swimming:

    —  Swimming facilities available in communities

    —  Facilities and training support available for competitive swimmers


Bedfordshire and the Bedfordshire ASA

  Bedfordshire is a rural shire county with two major centres of population, one located at the southern extremity of the county, Luton and Dunstable, and the other in the North, Bedford. The central swathe of the county is a rural area with several small market towns. The county has both the A1 and the M1 as major arterial roads, both are radial to London and provide little help in travelling across the county. In addition the County is served by the main rail lines: the East Coast line from Kings Cross and the Midland line from Euston/St Pancras. There also are radial routes from London and offer little assistance in travel within the County.

  The County ASA has 16 clubs affiliated to it; 14 are competitive swimming clubs, two specialist clubs providing opportunities for Diving, Synchronised swimming; Water Polo is available as subsections of some clubs and some schools are affiliated to Midland District but not the County. There are at least three clubs for disabled swimmers, usually providing secluded sessions for social swimming, but some offer limited training facilities for disabled swimmers who wish to enter the competitive side of the sport. The majority of all these clubs are located at public swimming pools which attempt to serve all the needs of their local communities from general public swimming, through swimming for the disabled, swimming lesson provision, to training facilities for competitive swimmers and opportunities for competition. In addition we are aware of swimming pools located at several schools and higher education establishments which are not always available to the public.

Swimming pool provision in Bedfordshire

  Some school pools are open air basic teaching pools, around 12.5 metre in length and of uniform depth around 1 metre. These are suitable for teaching children up to age 11 to swim, but not for general teenage or adult swimming and not for competitive use. Other schools, often in the private sector, have 25 metre pools.

  The public pools range from those capable of supporting 25 metre eight lane competitions to those with only four or six lanes, sometimes with direct connections to diving pits and toddler teaching pools. These are used for local competitions but are designed primarily for general public swimming. Some of the pools in the County are linked directly to schools and these have a policy that school needs must be met as the priority, limiting public use to times when the schools do not need them. In the urban centres of population, several pools may be accessible within the immediate environs of the towns, although several of the older pools in Luton, Dunstable and Bedford are either 33 metre or 331/3 yard and do not meet the modern competition standard of 25 metre or 50 metre. In rural Mid Bedfordshire, however, there are only two public pool facilities, one in Biggleswade at the eastern end of the district, the other at Flitwick, in the western part of the county.

General Public Swimming

  What is required for general public use of a swimming pool? A wide range of activities are covered by the term "public swimming":

    —  opportunities for families to play and swim together;

    —  times for independent public lane swimming;

    —  special sessions with floats for active fund;

    —  keep fit sessions with instructors;

    —  swim in retirement sessions;

    —  adult only sessions, sometimes segregated so that ladies, in particular, can swim alone;

    —  special sessions for disabled swimmers who feel unable to use the pool when it is freely available to the general public. This may appear on pool timetables as, and indeed be organised by, a specialist swimming club for the disabled, but it would be largely for recreational and therapeutic swimming, and therefore is better included here than with the competitive clubs.

  All of these have to fit into a pool's timetable around the other demands that are made for water time both for the provision of lessons and the provision of training facilities for competitive swimmers.

Swimming Lessons

  Swimming lessons come in various guises:

    —  the pool's own swim school which may work to the ASA National Plan for Teaching Swimming, or not;

    —  use by schools;

    —  individual lessons, often in public pool space; and

    —  adult teaching sessions.

  With the exception of school use of public pools for their own swimming lessons, the major part of the swimming teaching must take part outside the school day as the children involved, once they are over four years old, are in the school system. Adult beginner and improver lessons are most likely to be timetabled for the later part of evening swimming sessions, both because of the great demands at peak times but also because many of the participants work.

  Swimming lessons can be provided in the pool's timetable in one of two ways, largely dependent on the size of the pool. Eight lane pools have sufficient space to lane up to half the water to provide lesson space for the Swim School from around 3pm until, say 6pm. Later sessions would be used for training (see competitive swimming below). The other half of the water can be used by the public, and might even be divided to separate those who wish to swim regular lengths from those who wish to play with children and so on. Often it is parents and siblings of children having lessons who swim at this time of day. Smaller pools may have to close the pool to the public to accommodate Swim School lessons.

  In Bedfordshire the three tier school system has lower schools with children up to the age of nine, so although the national Curriculum requires that swimming be taught in Key Stages 1 and 2 (ages 4-11), often this is interpreted at best as applying only during the Lower school phase, and children (aged 9-11) are not offered further teaching in school. Some school children are not offered school swimming at all.

Training Provision for Swimming Clubs

  Detailed discussion of this topic will appear in the second major part of this evidence, but some discussion of it is needed here as it is an aspect of the use of swimming pools in the community.

  Swimming clubs are generally voluntary bodies which provide training opportunities for swimmers from the point at which they graduate from swim schools and they also provide access to the world of competitive swimming. This starts with novice galas where children can swim races selected for them by their coaches as part of Club teams, usually against other Club teams from the area. As the swimmers develop through their training they can explore the higher levels of team galas, up to national leagues, and also the individual performance route of Open Meets. Here the swimmers are competing primarily for themselves although they will do so normally with the support of their club coach. Clubs cater for all ages up to adult Masters swimmers.

  To enable swimmers to develop through this competitive sequence Clubs try to provide sufficient training facilities for swimmers to train three to five times each week. Training is supervised by qualified coaches and will include both water based and land based training. To meet the needs of most of the Club swimmers sessions have to be before or after school or at weekend.

Are the swimming facilities in communities adequate?

  It is axiomatic that recreational facilities are in peak demand when most of the population has recreational time. It must therefore be no surprise that peak water usage during weekdays at the majority of public pools falls in the early evening period, followed by the later evening and early morning. These are the times when children are not in school and those who work normal office hours are not at work. During the day demand can only come from mothers with pre-school children, the retired, the unemployed, those on shift patterns and the schools themselves. This means that all the popular uses—Swim School, adult swimming for fitness, training and recreational swimming of all styles—have to fit into these short periods. Provision must be adequate to meet demand at these times, with additional use during the working day being almost a bonus but, of course, to be encouraged. There is constant conflict, reflected in press comment locally, between the public accountability requirements of local authority pools serving the public and the needs of competitive swimming which aims to provide the glory of international success through training our talented swimmers.

  Bedfordshire has above the national average numbers of young people and is also part of the fastest growing region in the Nation, the Eastern region. One example of this growth is that of Biggleswade and the surrounding area. The Biggleswade Chronicle (page 5, 25th May) states that in Biggleswade alone, the population will conservatively increase from 15,250 in 1999 to 17,830 in 2004, an increase of approximately 2,500 or 16 per cent. The pool is already well used especially at those peak times identified above. Another example is the proposal to build a new settlement of 4,500 just south of Bedford with no provision for a swimming pool. This will increase the pressure on the existing pools in Bedford where the public can swim.

  How the needs of the increasing population can be met is far from clear. There are no under-used facilities in the area that would be able to accommodate the number of swimmers of all categories that Bedfordshire ASA hope would wish to participate in swimming. The obvious answer is to build additional facilities, but the message we hear from national bodies is that none are needed. We do not agree.

  We have been concerned that in two documents, addressing sports facilities and swimming development, on which Biggleswade Swimming Club (BSWC) was invited to comment recently, historic population figures appear to have been used rather than population projections. We have wondered if this is why Sport England appears to consider that no additional facilities are needed in this area. This is not the view of the local people, of the swimming clubs nor of the Bedfordshire ASA. At present one pool in the County has suffered a major structural fault and is due to be replaced, but plans to achieve this appear to be moving very slowly. Other pools are also in the queue for refurbishment if not replacement, but the time scale for work on those is even longer.

  The operational solution to the growing problems of meeting demand might be the provision of additional facilities which could meet more of the needs of more of the swimming population of a 50 metre pool in Mid Bedfordshire, specifically at Biggleswade. This facility could be used for Swim school; for club training; for elite squad training; for competition; for training of swimmers from outside the County; and, by eliminating or reducing the use of the existing pool by these activities, for increasing the space for non-competitive swimmers.


Swimming Clubs: the gatway to competitive swimming

  Swimmers who enter swimming clubs to experience the competitive side of swimming are normally given around three opportunities to train each week. These are sessions of one to two hour duration to which coaches provide planned training schedules designed to encourage swimmers to develop stamina, prepare for race conditions, race and enhance their skills. The proof of their efforts comes when they swim in team galas for their clubs or compete in Open Meets as individuals. As they progress up the ladder of competition so these swimmers need more time in the water, and ever more testing training schedules.

  Most clubs train in public pools. Time has to be allocated from the total water time available to allow these swimmers, principally schoolchildren, sufficient opportunity to fulfil their potential.Taking Biggleswade as a typical example, club swimmers have three training nights each week, and one morning session. The members, over 100 in total, are grouped into squads by ability and performance criteria so that swimmers of like ability train together. The club has five squads of competitive swimmers from Juniors through development stages to Senior, while Masters form the adult section of the club. Many of these swimmers will achieve qualifying times in several strokes and distances, allowing them to compete in the County Championships, a few achieve the qualifying times to compete at Midland District or National Age groups Championships.

  In addition to the provision of adequate water time, club swimmers also need to have sufficient coaches available to lead, supervise and encourage their development. Given that most clubs are run by volunteers and that income derives from training fees paid by the swimmers, the costs of both water time and coaches' remuneration dominates the financial management of the clubs. Many depend on one paid coach and several volunteer assistants. Finding qualified coaches, or people willing to become qualified can be a problem for clubs. Coaches try to provide coaching both in the water and on land, guiding the swimmers through flexibility and strength programmes of exercises, although there is no recognised land training qualification for swimming.

  There is an issue here of how to balance the needs of all club swimmers, helping them to achieve their full potential, against the desire to encourage the highest achievers to progress even further. The current practice allocates the 100 plus swimmers in club just one third as much water time as the elite group of 36 swimmers in the area.

Provision for elite swimmers

  In Mid Bedfordshire an innovative approach, unusual in a rural area, has been taken to meeting the needs of the elite swimmers. The clubs have worked together to form The Mid Beds Swim Squad (MBSS) which has had its own allocated water time in the two pools in the district for some years, and has recently appointed its own chief coach. Changes in training practice mean that now the elite swimmers in both clubs train together using both pools for up to 10 sessions each week, giving them a maximum opportunity close to 20 hours water time. Few of the swimmers can actually take up this number of sessions, as getting to school and completing home work has to take priority. The 36 swimmers form an integrated group working together and high levels of achievement are attained. The majority of these swimmers reach qualifying standard for the District Championships, and several also reach National Qualifying times. The highest achievement was the success this year at National Age Groups of one 12 year old swimmer winning two gold medals. This swimmer has been included in the World Class Start programme.

  The commitment, both in terms of time and money, by the families of the elite swimmers is enormous, with major expenditure of both spent in transporting the swimmers across the County for their training sessions. However, there is a large discrepancy between the maximum hours a Club swimmer can train with their club, and the extended facility offered to the elite swimmers. This can cause friction as those swimmers not selected to participate in the elite squads feel they miss the opportunity to reach the higher levels. If they do not have the opportunity to train more how can they hope to improve their achievements and bridge the gap into the elite group? There is also a difficulty over the elite swimmers becoming too remote from their home clubs, becoming unavailable for Club Competitions, and not supporting the development of the younger swimmers.

  There are inequalities across the country too that must be addressed. For example MBSS swimmers recently attended an Open Meet at a 50 metre pool in London. For some of the swimmers this was their first encounter with the long course pool; for others it was a still rare experience. There are insufficient 50 metre pools in the London area—one at Crystal Palace, one in Ealing. This is true, but there are too many areas across the country where they are non-existent. We think there is a need for 50 metre pools to be made more widely available, and they should be available to people in rural areas as well as urban ones. The East Sports Board's Target and Action Points includes an intention to:

  Remind national agencies that rural deprivation is every bit as real as urban deprivation and that people in rural areas can be excluded as much as those in inner cities.

  In terms of swimming provision and population breakdown we understand that if one current facilities planning model is used, only London, Birmingham and Manchester would warrant one 50 metre pool each! As there are more 50 metre pools in Paris than in the whole of the United Kingdom, and more 50 metre pools on the Olympic Marathon course in Sydney than in the whole of the United Kingdom, we think there must be something wrong with the model. It should be revamped to include elements like encouragement of sport, enthusiasm and social provision.


  Bedfordshire has limited provision for specialist water activities such as diving. Surely there is a need to provide at least enough facilities for this, or is the population of Bedfordshire yet again to be dependent on travel outside the area for special facilities. Another specialist activity that does not require an additional facility but would need water time is synchronised swimming. The current high usage of the existing water effectively precludes this sport from starting up in the area. Training time is also needed for triathletes for whom swimming is only one part of their competition


  At a time when British swimming is seeking to change itself into a more competitive body on the world stage we think that there are two key issues for the future development of swimming:

    —  increasing the overall amount of water available—building new pools;

    —  ensuring that development plans consider the whole of the sport—swimming for all, not just the competitive sport.

Increasing facilities

  We have demonstrated that Bedfordshire is part of an expanding region. Maintaining the facilities at the current level will permit only a decreasing proportion of the population to use the swimming pools. Increasing populations need additional facilities. If as a country we also want our competitive swimmers to achieve international success we must surely provide appropriate facilities for them. We do not think these two aims are incompatible.

  There is already evidence that attempting to fit all the current swimming activities into the limited water available, causes friction between the various groups of people trying to participate in the sport. When the elite Squad in Mid Bedfordshire recently took up the whole of their allocated water space to provide better training opportunities for the elite competitive swimmers, it caused friction with the general public swimmers who perceived the squad as taking more of the public water time and decreasing their enjoyment of swimming; and it caused friction with the local club, who had been able to use some of the squad time to provide greater opportunity for the club swimmers and who are now trying to support their members on less water time. Only the provision of more water can resolve this problem.

  There is a move toward requiring swimmers to qualify for top level competitions only in long course, 50 metre, pools. This is sense in that these competitions are held in long course pools; the Olympics use long course pools; international competition is in long course pools. However, we do not have enough 50 metre pools available in this country, and those that do exist tend to be in urban areas and/or are often associated with centres of learning and academic excellence. We think there is room for a radical alternative: build a long course pool at a site where it can be used not only by the local population but also where the transport facilities will enable it to draw in competitive users from a much wider area.

  Eastern Bedfordshire is accessible to the whole of the East Anglian Region in which it lies; it is accessible to London on the radial routes; it is accessible to the Midlands along the A14 and the North by the A1 and East Coast railway. The club at Biggleswade has demonstrated its enthusiasm and vision by acquiring the Automated Officiating Equipment needed to enhance its competitive facilities. We know the club is now developing plans to extend its facilities to include a 50 metre pool on the same site as the existing 8 lane 25 metre pool. Those plans are still at an early stage of development and this might not be the optimal location for a 50 metre pool within the county. However, we recognise that such provision could enhance the opportunities for all swimmers in Bedfordshire and for the many areas around the county and would encourage serious consideration of their proposals.

Development Plans—swimming for all

  There is a risk that Development Plans for any sport will focus solely on the competitive side of the sport. It is understandable as the governing bodies of these sports are concerned primarily with competitive development. In sports like football or athletics this might even be reasonable as a recreational level these can be organised with virtually no additional facilities. Swimming is different—even for recreational swimming, a swimming pool is needed. Development plans for swimming must therefore take all aspects of provision for swimming into account, so that the needs for all sections of the swimming community are met.

  Active Sport have produced a draft Plan for the Development of Swimming in Luton and Bedfordshire. This plan was actually concerned only with attracting more people into organised swimming, whereas there is a need for planning for all aspects of swimming. Several exciting possibilities were discussed in the plan—more festivals, more competition—but nowhere was there recognition that all the proposals require water time—a commodity already in short supply.

  The blunt fact is that we as a community need additional water-time and water provision to resolve the conflict of interests experienced at present at times when all of the public, the competitive clubs and Swim School are seeking to use the pools.

  The increasing need for additional water time for the competitive side of swimming is now reaching crisis point.

  These two comments are extracted from responses by local clubs to consultation papers on sports facilities and swimming development. They put the point across well.

28 November 2001

previous page contents next page

House of Commons home page Parliament home page House of Lords home page search page enquiries index

© Parliamentary copyright 2002
Prepared 15 January 2002