Memorandum submitted by the Chief Coach
at Barking Swimming Club
COMPETITIVE SWIMMING IN EAST LONDON
I was appointed as Chief Coach of Barking Swimming
Club in March of 1997. At this time the membership was around
200 in number and the club could only offer seven hours training
time to its "top" swimmers with an additional six hours
to all other levels of its membership, including "learn-to-swim"
groups. There was only one swimmer who held a County Age-Group
qualifying time and no one who had achieved a District Age-Group
qualifying time, let alone a National Age-Group qualifying time.
As a result of a lot of very hard work and dedication on the part
of a lot of people, most of whom are unpaid volunteers, the club
can now boast a membership of 450 members with 45 swimmers with
County qualifying times, 16 with District qualifying times and
three or four who will achieve National qualifying times. To achieve
this we have had to expand our water-time to 10 hours for the
"performance squad", as they are now called, and nine
hours for other groups. Our membership comprises of participants
from a multitude of ethnic and cultural backgrounds and includes
members with disabilities, one of whom has represented Great Britain
in the Paralympics.
The Amateur Swimming Association (ASA) in their
literature for their Swim 21 programme state that Performance
swimmers (National level) should have access to between 17 and
22 hours water-time each week, 8 and 16 hours for Competitive
Development (District, National Age-Group, Designated Meets),
4 and 7 hours for Skill Development (County League level). As
you can see, we are well below these figures.
The purpose of making this submission is not
to crow about our achievements to date, although we are justifiably
proud of them to date, but rather to highlight to you the situation
we now find ourselves in. That is our being unable to further
develop swimmers to the levels of "excellence" that
the Government say they want us to strive towards.
I would imagine that much of the evidence you
will be hearing will relate to the lack of 50 metre training facilities
in the Greater London area. The closest one to the London Borough
of Barking and Dagenham, where our headquarters are based, is
the National Sports Centre at Crystal Palace. It takes us around
an hour to get there on a good day and necessitates us crossing
the Thames at some point. The facility itself is in excess of
40 years old and badly in need of refurbishment. Notwithstanding
this it is becoming increasingly more difficult to book lanes
for training purposes because of the demands on its water-time
by swimming clubs from all over the Southeast. Naturally, a large
proportion of this time is allocated to clubs local to the facility.
The next closest is Gurnell Pool in Ealing,
West London and can take us upwards of an hour and a half to get
there on a good day. The pool has recently undergone refurbishment
admittedly. The only other 50 metre pool is the British Army Garrison
pool at Aldershot. This is a lovely facility but again is on the
opposite side of London to our Headquarters and can take two hours
to reach. In addition there can be limited access at times because
of the Army having first claim on its use.
With the next closest 50 metre pools being in
either Norwich or Coventry you can see that we desperately need
more 50 metre pools in London as a whole but we are especially
in dire need of one in Northeast London.
However, what you may not hear so much of is
the current situation in the East London Boroughs regarding the
lack of facilities and the age of existing facilities and the
subsequent problems this creates.
In the London Borough of Barking and Dagenham
we have three Public Pools. The first Goresbrook Leisure Centre
is a modern building but the management will not entertain competitive
clubs at all, despite part of the leisure pool having clearly
been designed with dual use in mind. Abbey Sports Centre is about
fourteen years old but clubs have limited access to the pool at
sociable hours. The main facility Dagenham Swimming Pool was built
around 40 years ago and in desperate need of refurbishment. We
are advised that this will be done eventually but the local authority
do not have the money to undertake the work currently, nor are
they likely to in the foreseeable future. The prospect is that
there will be further deterioration to the fabric of the centre
before any significant refurbishment takes place. There is rumour
that the local authority is considering demolishing the building
and replacing it with a smaller facility, possibly attached to
a secondary school.
In addition, we currently use the University
of East London Pool which was built in the 1930s and where the
boilers are continuously breaking down. We are informed that there
is a new campus, including swimming pool, to be built in the Docklands.
When this is complete in a few years the University will transfer
their Sports Science Department to Docklands and close their pool
in Barking and Dagenham.
This situation has resulted in us seeking water-time
in neighbouring boroughs, where we also find the water-time is
quite a bit cheaper anyway. Currently, half our training time
is in neighbouring boroughs.
However, the picture isn't rosy in these boroughs
either. In Redbridge the two Public Pools are at bursting point.
With one public pool over 40 years old and the other approaching
70 years old they are in desperate need of replacement or major
refurbishment. Plans for a third facility have been on hold for
a number of years because of lack of money. There is no further
time available for clubs in Redbridge school pools either because
they are fully booked already.
In Havering, similarly they have two Main Public
Pools and one dual use facility. Central Park Pool, over 40 years
old, has just had a lottery bid rejected for the building of a
new pool. Chaffords Pool (dual use) is currently closed in the
evenings because of staffing problems.
In Newham, there are four public pools including
a new leisure centre at East Ham Town Hall. However, this new
centre is not available to clubs currently. The London Borough
of Newham club has had to reduce its water-time because of a combination
of greatly increased charges for their training time and the phased
withdrawal of subsidy to the club by the local authority. The
club has subsequently lost its best swimmers to clubs in other
boroughs, most notably Redbridge, where there is a strong borough
Indeed a sorry tale but in real terms it means
that, as a club, we have nowhere to expand into.
In September of this year I was invited, along
with colleagues and officers of other local swimming clubs, to
a meeting with representatives of the London Borough of Barking
and DagenhamLeisure Services.
The Leisure Services stated that they were concerned
at the number of swimmers that were leaving clubs within the borough
and training with clubs in neighbouring boroughs. They asked us
what needed to be done to prevent this from happening. Our responses
were probably quite predictable. We needed more water-time at
sociable hours and at affordable rates, we needed land training
facilities at sociable hours and affordable rates and an ongoing
commitment of support from the local authority.
A few weeks ago, we were invited back to meet
with Leisure Services. We were told that we could have two early
morning sessions at an undisclosed rate but at such a time that
few swimmers could access the sessions and get to school on time.
We were told that they could not / would not allow us earlier
evening time, meaning that we could not take-up the offer of the
early mornings even if they offered to us for free. The current
situation is that the local clubs tend to have their club times
shunted towards the unsociable hours that nobody else wants in
the public pools. I currently have training sessions that finish
at 9.30pm or 10pm at night.
We could have limited land-training facilities,
for an undisclosed fee, but only at the same time as the clubs
were training in the water (??), ie they were expecting the swimmers
to be in the gym and in the water at exactly the same time.
They concluded that they knew it wasn't what
we wanted to hear but that it was the best they could offer. They
accepted that performance swimmers would have no option but to
leave the borough and the clubs would have to try and work together
to sort things out. This leaves us with the feeling that we are
like a group of farmers being asked to farm a co-operative but
without any ploughs or tools.
The common thread that seems to be going through
local authorities, is the lack of money generally. All councils
have their priorities for spending irrespective of which political
party is in control. All too often Leisure and Recreation are
a long way down on this list of priorities, with the net result
that there are insufficient monies available to conduct new facility
leisure projects or even keep existing ones totally up to scratch.
Councils are increasingly turning to alternative means of raising
income and invariably "commercialism" takes over. More
"profitable" activities are given precedence over competitive
swimming clubs, with the result that clubs are pushed into the
hours that nobody else wants, as mentioned previously. Local authority
"learn-to-swims" hold on to swimmers so long, no doubt
for commercial reasons, that it is frequently too late for most
swimmers entering clubs from these schemes to pursue a meaningful
competitive swimming career.
The main problem as far as money is concerned
appears to be the disproportionate amount of funding that comes
to Greater London councils from Central Government sources, relative
to the funding that goes to the Regions. This puts London Boroughs
at a disadvantage and greater pressure when they try to prioritise
their spending requirements.
To change this no doubt would necessitate a
change of policy from the Government and dare I say it a big influx
of Government money; but without such a shift, the situation can
only get worse.
What does the current situation mean for my
club in particular. It means that I have little or no hope of
being able to provide opportunities for my members to reach their
full potential. It means that my club will not be able to participate
in Swimming Development initiatives in a meaningful way. It means
that swimmers of particular potential may be lost not only to
my club but to the sport altogether. It means that we cannot truly
aspire to "excellence". If this picture were to be reflected
nationwide then, without becoming alarmist, one can foresee a
time when this country will not have any swimmers who could compete
on the world stage.
For my part, I will continue to fight our corner
and bash my head against that bureaucratic brick wall. I feel
I owe it to the swimmers to do so. I can only hope that the result
of your deliberations will be a re-think of Government policy
and strategy before it is too late.
29 November 2001