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Opinion: 'More and more swimming pools are struggling to stay afloat and yet the government is not helping such a beneficial activity'

When ambulance staff went on strike, the government urged people not to do certain things that might mean a trip to their local hospital.

Among the suggested activities to be avoided were physical exercise - playing five-a-side football, running, cycling. Basically, anything that could risk a broken bone or a nasty fall was, according to ministers, not advisable.

Pools face an uncertain future. Library image
Pools face an uncertain future. Library image

Yes, the government was actually discouraging exercise when, under usual circumstances, it would, in its drive to improve public health, be promoting it.

There was one activity that was not mentioned in the dispensing of this advice and you suspect for good reason. Swimming is an activity where the risks of breaking a leg or arm or something else are virtually non-existent. True, you might belly-flop off the diving board but that is only injurious to pride.

So why did the government omit any mention of swimming? The answer is that many leisure centres are having to put the covers on and turn down the dial on the thermostat to zero.

People wanting to do the one activity that presents one of the lowest risk of injury are finding the doors are shut.

There’s a simple explanation. Heating a pool at a time when fuel prices are going through the roof is leaving the operators of local pools with eye-watering - and unsustainable - costs.

'Rishi Sunak certainly ought to get the importance, he is building a pool at his constituency home, so clearly appreciates the value of swimming...'

You might have expected the government to be sympathetic to their plight. But you won’t find swimming pools among the organisations that could benefit from the recently launched Energy Bills Discount Scheme.

Botanical and zoology gardens make it, as do museums and libraries. Some operators of pools have closed temporarily in the face of bills that have risen by 200% since 2019. They have pledged to review the closures in Spring but unless the government helps bail them out, the future looks grim.

Recently Maidstone Leisure Centre has been closing parts of its pools with little or no notice due to a lack of staff but the future of the complex remains in doubt after the council kicked a decision on refurbishment into the long grass.

As Swim England chief executive Jane Nickerson, puts it: “This decision by the Government to not provide additional support to swimming pools and leisure centres is a hammer blow and flies in the face of previous statements from the Government about the importance of physical activity and reducing pressures on the NHS.”

It is a classic case of the government failing to appreciate the optics. More than that, closures are depriving people of an activity known to enhance health - physical and mental - is social and is estimated to save the NHS £350m a year.

Will Rishi Sunak get it and move to help leisure centres? He certainly ought to: he is building a pool at his constituency home, so clearly appreciates the value of swimming.

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