AS swimming pools across the country gain from government funding, the contribution to Devon pools proves to be a... drop in the ocean.
After almost £250,000 worth of government grants for leisure centres across Devon, local community pools say they are still struggling to stay afloat.
Bovey Tracey Swimming Pool was the largest recipient with £5,600, followed by Buckfastleigh Open Air Pool with £2,500 and Moretonhampstead Swimming Pool with £683
The £20 million scheme targeted centres across England with the highest risk of closure or a significant reduction in services. However, the method of allocation was not disclosed.
Although Mel Stride said he was ‘delighted’ to hear about the grants, most pools missed out, with those receiving funding finding that the cash was barely a drop in the ocean.
Pam Barrett, the former chairman of Buckfastleigh Open Air Pool, is leading its swimming pool support fund.
She said: ‘I think a lot of people took it that this was going to be the saviour of swimming pools, but the reality is that the method of distributing and the scale of the funding is an absolute travesty and it isn’t going to save any pools.’
At 125 years old, Buckfastleigh Pool is one of the oldest pools in England. Despite running for so long, its role in the community has never been more essential. People from every age group use the pool, from children at the local primary schools to Camp Hill, a home for severely disabled adults. They also provide free swimming for families that cannot afford it and training programmes for lifeguards.
Pam said: ‘Swimming is the highest participation sport in the country for all ages. But it’s more than a sport, it’s a way to keep communities healthy mentally and physically.’
Although Buckfastleigh was one of the pools to receive a slice of the £20m grant, the scale of funding barely scratched the surface. Energy costs alone have rocketed from £10,000 a year to £35,000. Running costs overall have risen from £50,000 to almost £100,000.
Buckfastleigh was one of the few pools to receive some funding. Kingsteignton did not. Like Buckfastleigh and most other community pools, Kingsteignton Pool is run by a group of dedicated volunteers.
After a gruelling and complex process, Linda Dawe, Kingsteignton Pool’s deputy chairman and volunteer director, completed the grant application. ‘You had to put down everything but your shoe size,’ she explained.
Just like Buckfastleigh, Kingsteignton Pool has been positively affecting the community for 40 years and 24,000 people swim there each year, with slots for seven schools, children with special needs and Kings Care Home.
Equally, the pool has also been facing spiralling costs, such as £12,000 just to heat it for the start of the season.
Despite the pool being in serious financial peril, no help was given. Decisions were made without any explanation as to how they were being made. Linda said: ‘We thought this money would save us, but actually what it’s done is it’s disheartened us. We work so hard and it makes you wonder why are you bothering.
‘Without knowing the scoring that they’re using, we don’t know how this works. That’s what frustrated us, it hasn’t been an open, transparent process.’
England has lost almost 400 of its pools since 2010, and according to Swimming England, 40 per cent of the remaining 4,000 pools will be gone by 2030 if action isn’t taken.
With another tranche of capital funding planned, the opportunity for governmental help is not over. However, both pools agreed that to ensure the future of community pools, a systemic change is needed. ‘We need two things,’ Pam explained, ‘We need to commission a swimming strategy to look at how the government can help pools and swimming flourish in the future.
‘But the simplest solution currently is to include swimming pools in the business energy cap. Museums and zoos are part of the business energy rate cap but children’s swimming lessons are not, which seems to lack any common sense. These pools have been through a series of world wars, major depressions and economic clashes and you’re telling me we can’t afford to have a swimming pool in the 21st century?’
The Department for Digital, Culture, Media and Sport has been approached for comment.