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


Memorandum submitted by the Chief Coach at Barking Swimming Club



  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 squad.

  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 Dagenham—Leisure 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

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