Why we need to invest in our local swimming pools

The contrast could not be more jarring: just weeks after Team GB won a total of 25 swimming medals at the Tokyo Olympics and Paralympics (nine of which were gold), a report from Swim England is warning that 2,000 swimming pools in England could be closed by 2030 – 40% of the current total – and that without investment of £1bn there will be a “huge decline” in the availability of pools. This would be a catastrophe for public health and for communities more generally. Thinking specifically of children for a moment, swimming plays a huge role in promoting not just their safety but also their overall physical and mental health and wellbeing. And yet, as we highlighted in May, despite swimming lessons being part of the national curriculum, it is likely that around one in three children are unable to swim by the age of 11.

Swim England’s report is called A Decade in Decline: The Future of Swimming Pools in England. In a section called The Value of Pools, the report says that every £1 spent on community sport and physical activity generates nearly £4 for the economy and society, and that weekly swimming saves the NHS and social care system more than £357m each year.

It also sets out the benefits of swimming, including for:

  • physical wellbeing – swimmers report feeling 12 years younger than non-swimmers
  • mental wellbeing – 1.4 million adults feel swimming has significantly reduced their anxiety or depression
  • individual development – women and girls report that swimming more than doubled their levels of self-confidence

Jane Nickerson, Swim England’s chief executive, said:

Pools are hubs of the local community, helping people of all ages to lead healthier, happier lives and saving the NHS hundreds of millions of pounds each year. They are also the places where millions learn a skill that could one day save their life – or someone else’s.

It’s particularly timely that we’re discussing this as today marks National Fitness Day, where we celebrate the vital role of leisure centres and gyms and the positive impact they have on so many lives. It reminds us that it’s more important than ever to ensure we have the facilities we need for people to continue to enjoy in the future.

Jane Nickerson, Swim England’s chief executive, quoted on their website

In our post All young children should be receiving free swimming lessons we noted that the national curriculum states that all schools must provide swimming lessons either in key stage 1 or key stage 2. Despite this, research published by the Amateur Swimming Association (ASA) in 2018 indicated that one in three children leave primary school unable to swim and that the proportion of children unable to swim is growing.

Swimming pools matter for another reason too: they help to provide a sense of community. Along with The Body (physical health) and The Emotions (mental health), two other LBL life themes are Relationships and Community, which sit within a broader category called Society: crucial to human life and living is the ability to relate to — and interact positively with — others, be it family, friends, neighbours, work colleagues or wider society.

At its most basic level, it means children learning and learning to value that they are part of something bigger than just their immediate network. Regular visits to the local swimming pool – whether with school or with family – help to reinforce that message. The Swim England report also quotes two other eye-catching facts about the benefits of swimming:

  • social and community development – swimmers have been found to be more socially connected and to have more friends than non-swimmers
  • volunteering – swimmers are 26.1% more likely to volunteer

We have argued elsewhere that vibrant communities nurture and enrich us as individual human beings whereas community breakdown damages us. How tragic if the dilapidated shell of a former community swimming pool or leisure centre were to become – like the closed-down post office and the boarded-up local pub – just another symbol of a community in decline.

The Swim England report appeals to the government’s so-called ‘levelling-up’ agenda:

Investing in new facilities that support community sport and physical activity can play an important role in boosting the economy and helping to level up inequalities within communities. Improving the health and wellbeing of local areas should be a key component of the government’s ‘levelling up’ agenda.

A Decade of Decline: The Future of Swimming Pools in England, page 8

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Image at the head of this article by tookapic from Pixabay.

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