● 17,000 employed at pools in peril, leisure industry leaders say
● “Big Swim Day” highlights calls for UK Government to reverse decision to axe support for power bills
● Olympic gold medallist Duncan Goodhew speaks out, saying: “It’s madness”
HALF of the UK’s community swimming pools face closure or service cuts within six months – placing thousands of jobs at risk – unless the Government steps in with urgent financial support to tackle crippling energy bills.
That’s the stark warning from Community Leisure UK (CLUK), the industry body representing the operators of 880 pools across England, Scotland and Wales.
Its members – all charities – have shared the scale of collective closure and cuts as they brace themselves for the ending of Government energy support, on top of the unprecedented pressures caused by skyrocketing power prices. Some have already seen their bills triple.
They will be exposed to the full force of record electricity and gas costs after the UK Government decided not to continue classifying swimming pools as vulnerable from April 1 – a decision leisure leaders want to see reversed.
The plight of pools is being highlighted as part of Big Swim Day today (Friday), with people across the country urged to visit their local swimming facility and show their support by enjoying a swim and urging action in order to help keep pools open.
More than one million children a year learn to swim at community pools in England alone.
But fears are growing that a wave of closures would lead to the loss of lifesaving skills for a generation.
Swimming legend Duncan Goodhew, a gold medallist at the 1980 Moscow Olympics, is supporting the call for Government action.
He said: “This is make-or-break time for an alarming number of swimming pools across the UK. It’s madness that the Government doesn’t seem able to see the danger they are in.
“Without pools and leisure centres being classed as vulnerable, the astronomical energy price hikes their operators face will sadly be the final fatal blow for many.
Duncan added: “It’s obvious that we cannot afford for communities to be robbed of swimming pools. People have never needed help with their health and wellbeing more. Yet, without political and financial support, they are going to have fewer places than ever to do that.
“I’ve seen thousands of children learn to swim in their local pools. If there aren’t the places to teach these life-improving – lifesaving – skills they will be lost for a generation.”
CLUK, whose members employ 17,000 people at community swimming pools, had written to Chancellor Jeremy Hunt calling on him to designate leisure and cultural charitable trusts as a Vulnerable Sector as part of the UK Government’s Energy Bill Relief Scheme. But it was not included in the updated list of eligible sectors.
Leisure leaders say they are particularly vulnerable because of their high energy bills to heat water and the ambient environment.
Phil Rumbelow, Chair of CLUK, said: “Without continued Government support, our members tell us that up to half of their pools could close or face service cuts. They simply will not be able to afford to run them fully – if at all.
“That could mean hundreds of communities being robbed of a pool – potentially putting thousands of jobs in jeopardy. Allowing that to happen would be a national disgrace.
“Given that our members provide community services at affordable prices, it’s the most vulnerable – those already hit hardest by the cost of living crisis and the ongoing impact of Covid-19 – who will suffer the greatest at a time when they need support with their health and wellbeing most.”
Heating an average 25-metre six-lane swimming pool uses about one million kwh of power per year. That compares to the average 2,900 kwh of electricity and 12,000 kwh of gas that energy regulator Ofgem says is used by the average British household annually.
CLUK say pool closures would not only block a reroute to better public health, but cause an irreparable blow to elite sporting development, losing medal-winners of the future.
As part of Big Swim Day, it is encouraging people to show their support for pools on social media using the hashtag #saveourpools, highlighting the invaluable role they play in communities.
Peter Bundey is CEO of charitable social enterprise GLL, which operates 150 community swimming pools across the country.
He said: “As the UK’s largest operator of swimming pools, we are fully supportive of this sector-wide campaign.
“Without central Government help, the future of public swimming pools and small community-led pools is under real threat.
“For generations we’ve taken for granted that we all have easy access to a local pool, where we can learn to swim, exercise and socialise; unfortunately, that may not be the case for much longer.
“By excluding leisure facilities and in particular swimming pools from the list of sectors eligible for extra financial support, central Government is effectively consigning many public and community pools across the UK to closure.
“With fewer opportunities to swim, health inequalities will grow and the most disadvantaged in society will be disproportionately affected. In the longer-term pressure on health services will increase as a result.”
The UK Government’s Energy Bill Relief Scheme provides relief for non-domestic users across Great Britain and Northern Ireland by reducing gas and electricity unit prices.
The sector was supported over the first six months of the scheme, but was not on the list announced for inclusion beyond April 1.
1. Estimated swimming pool closures and job loss numbers are based on internal research among members of Community Leisure UK. Swimming pools among the membership employ an average of 39 people each.
2. Community Leisure UK (CLUK) is the members’ association that represents charitable leisure and culture trusts across England, Scotland and Wales.
3. All members are leisure and culture trusts, which are either registered charities or registered charitable societies. Trusts do not distribute profit and instead reinvest every pound generated into the provision of quality leisure and culture services and facilities. Trusts are rooted in the local communities they serve, with specific services designed and supported through the cross-subsidy model to support those in most need
4. CLUK members manage facilities including: swimming pools, libraries, museums, pitches, gyms, ice arenas, beach fronts, parks, heritage buildings and children’s centres. Importantly, members deliver vital community services
5. Media enquiries: Contact Peter Duncan at Message Matters – [email protected] / 07740 469949.
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Community Leisure UK. Registered Office: Middlegate House, The Royal Arsenal, London SE18 6SX. Registered in England & Wales. Company Registration No: 05932294