Pools gold: the hidden benefits of local swimming pools
At the heart of the community
Working all of the main muscles in the body, swimming is one of the best forms of exercise. You can go swimming at any time of year, anyone of any age can do it and it’s the only sport that saves lives. The soothing effects of the water and the release of endorphins when swimming have also been said to have mental health benefits, like reducing stress and anxiety levels.
Why then are more and more local pools closing down every year?
Local pools provide affordable access to a form of exercise that’s seen as a valuable life skill and bring people together to learn, bond and get fit.
We surveyed people who regularly swim at our swimming pools to find out how they feel about their local facility. You can see the results in this image.
Based on these intriguing stats, it seems people are using their local pool for something more than just doing laps. With this in mind, we gathered personal accounts from our pool-goers to discover how swimming benefits them in other ways.
From making friends to achieving goals – not only has swimming at a local pool impacted the lives of our interviewees in myriad ways, but the passion surrounding the importance of keeping these facilities in a community is palpable.
Originally from Manchester, Andrew moved down to London and has swum at our Ironmonger Row Baths venue for over five years as part of his exercise regime. He remembers when the pool was re-opened following a campaign to save the old Victorian building from being knocked down. He loves swimming at the pool as it’s clean, friendly and affordable. He thinks the affordability of our swimming centres is especially important as it means that every facility is accessible to the entire community.
Andrew Gill, 40, Manchester
"I think local swimming facilities are essential. Fitness is often seen as a privilege, especially when private gym chains charge high monthly fees, so affordable alternatives are so important for communities."
A valuable skill & medication
As a child, Jude learnt to swim at our Lux Park centre in Cornwall. After moving away as a teenager, she returned to Cornwall and began swimming at the newly re-developed centre again. Following in her footsteps, one of her sons learnt to swim at the centre’s swim school and now both of her boys swim there regularly. Jude sees swimming as a valuable skill – it has taught her children the ability to know how to survive in the water as well as other transferable behavioural skills.
Jude also has an inflammatory form of arthritis, which means swimming is one of the only forms of exercise she can do. Rather than live with the side effects of arthritis medication, Jude chooses to deal with the pain and lives medication free, using swimming to remedy her discomfort.
Jude Hayes, 43, Liskeard, Cornwall
"Swimming is my medication, allowing me to keep my joints mobile, my muscles strong and get the kick of endorphin release that helps to control pain levels. It keeps me on an 'even keel' mentally and gives me the space to be me – not just a wife, or a mother, or an arthritis sufferer!”
After moving back to Belfast seven months ago, Sam started swimming at the Olympia leisure centre. He finds the pool a social place, using it to have fun with others and get rid of some work stress. It’s also the only time he gets to see his two older sisters, who both work in Belfast and swim at the Olympia.
Living in a big city, Sam thinks local pools are particularly important to combat the isolation many feel in urban areas.
As a social enterprise, it’s our mission to not only improve the health of those who use our facilities but improve their social wellbeing too. Sam has benefitted from both of these initiatives and has recognised first-hand how our centres have a positive impact on communities.
Samuel Robinson, 24, Belfast, Northern Ireland
"My local pool is a keystone for the community with people coming from all around to swim there. It's a good way to better understand who lives in your area and reduce the alienation you feel in a city.”
Simona is a first-time mother and lives in Moss Side, Manchester. She swam during the final months of her pregnancy to exercise when she could no longer do cardiovascular workouts and now takes her baby boy swimming regularly.
Interestingly, 32% of respondents from our survey said that their most memorable visits to their local pool are when they go swimming with their family – a sentiment we’re sure Simona shares.
Simona also thinks that her local pool is an important community facility because it provides gender-specific sessions, something which may help women feel more comfortable in what can otherwise be a daunting environment.
Having the opportunity to swim in the final months of pregnancy had a hugely beneficial impact on Simona’s wellbeing, something which is vital at such an important time.
Simona Popova, 33, Moss Side, Manchester
"Swimming was very beneficial to me in the last month of my pregnancy when I couldn't do any other cardiovascular exercise. Since my baby boy was born, we go two or three times a week."
Suitable for all ages
Elizabeth is a retired grandmother from Abingdon in Oxfordshire. She uses her pool for a number of reasons, from taking her granddaughter to our baby swimming lessons three times a week to keeping active herself, which she has found more difficult after retiring.
Just like Elizabeth, 42% of respondents from our survey in the 55-64 age group think that their local pool is important for their health and the community.
Elizabeth Francis, Abingdon, Oxfordshire
"I take my granddaughter to my local pool for children’s swimming lessons three times a week where she learns how to swim confidently.
The centre is set up to encourage you to try something new and it's always buzzing with activity. Since retiring the pool has really helped increase the amount I exercise.”
Pawel is from Poland and now lives in Barking. He swims at the London Aquatics Centre, using the Olympic-sized swimming pool to build-up his endurance during winter when it’s too cold to swim outdoors. Using the swimming facilities has been instrumental in achieving personal goals for Pawel as well as inspiring young people to try swimming competitions.
Pawel Gabka, 41, Barking, London
"I plan to swim the Channel next year and the Olympic-sized facility is essential to my endurance training. Swimming is really important in helping me to achieve personal goals and support charitable causes I care about.
I'm also swimming the Dart 10k later this year in aid of Level Water to help all children enjoy swimming as much as I do."
Thirty-eight percent of respondents in our survey view their local swimming pool as a place to improve health and wellbeing. Mathieu is one such person. Having swum in Clapham for over a year, Mathieu relishes the opportunity to get out of the house and go swimming at the weekend.
Mathieu Desgurse, 29, Clapham, London
"Swimming has helped me to relieve stress at critical times and allowed me to get out of my cocoon safely during weekends. It's a great community facility that brings people together around the same passion."
Pool openings are declining
Our expert opinion
Swimming clearly means so much to so many, but sadly pools closures have risen in recent years.
So, what do our experts think about why this is?
"Swimming pools are the cornerstone of the local community, but as they age, utility costs increase, and facilities suffer wear and tear. More than 40% of public pool stock was opened pre 1980 and older pools are costly to maintain and do not give the consumer the experience they are looking for, To maximise investment in new facilities, there will often be an approach to replace several smaller pool facilities with one larger multi-purpose Leisure Centre with a wider offer. As well as working hard to develop more sustainable programmes for existing pools, Better is currently involved in several new build projects around the UK to ensure the continuity of swimming pool facilities, including innovative and efficient design concepts to ensure longevity."
(Image reference: Swim Report, 2018)
Investing in the future
We asked the Swimming Teachers Association (STA) for their thoughts. STA's CEO Dave Candler said:
“In our recent survey for International Learn to Swim Week, we positively found that 70% of parents think swimming is the most valuable sport for children to learn. But, unlike football, running, cycling and many other recreational activities where you can enjoy your sport freely in the local park, to learn how to swim you need a swimming pool. Sadly, however, due to ageing pool stock and the cost of maintenance, we have seen more and more of our community pools close in recent years.
For STA to fulfil its charitable aim of ‘preserving human life by the teaching of swimming, lifesaving and survival techniques’, we are therefore supporting Better Leisure in their campaign to highlight the importance of public swimming pools in local communities.
Swimming is a key life skill that every child should be given the opportunity to learn, and for STA this makes preserving our community pools even more important. We applaud the work Better are doing in raising awareness about this most serious issue, and the work they are doing in investing in both old and new pool facilities for communities across the UK.”
Swimming is a life skill
Despite our plans to build brand new pools, it seems a large portion of the population doesn’t view swimming as a necessary life skill.
While this figure is alarming, it gives us hope to hear how our respondents value the importance of the activity, however, they understood that many people don’t feel the same way. Jude says:
“I would have travelled any distance to ensure [my sons] had swimming lessons, because for me swimming is essential, but I think I am a minority in this.”
It is our hope that by shining a light on the surprising benefits of swimming the current misconceptions surrounding the activity will begin to shift more towards Jude’s mindset, encouraging people to learn how to swim.
(Image references: Swimming Teachers’ Association survey, 2018, and Swim England research, 2018)
What can you do?
Whether you’re inspired by the stories, or impassioned at the thought of local pools closing, swimming may now be on your agenda.
By making a splash in your local pool, you’re not only opening yourself up to all the benefits that our contributors have gained, but you’re keeping the demand for local pools alive.
Learn more about our swimming facilities.
With thanks to our contributors:
Swim Report (2018) [PDF] Link to purchase: http://www.leisuredb.com/blog/2018/6/6/2018-state-of-the-uk-swimming-industry-report-out-now
Swimming Teachers’ Association survey (2018): https://www.sta.co.uk/events/international-learn-to-swim-week/
Swim England research (2018):