View from the Water – Outdoor swimming communities are awesome
Originally built in the 1930s, Bude Sea Pool has been a popular swimming spot for generations and is the top visitor attraction in the town. However, it costs around £40,000 per year to keep it operational and safe and in 2010 Cornwall Council decided to withdraw its funding. The pool faced closure and, due to the daily pounding from the Atlantic, eventual destruction.
Galvanised by the threat of closure, local swimmers formed a charity, Friends of Bude Sea Pool, and in 2012 took over the management of the pool. Where the council saw a burden, the ‘Friends’ saw an opportunity. As a charity dedicated to caring for and enhancing the pool they could operate very differently to the council. In a few short years, the transformation has been incredible. Expensive construction and restoration work has been carried out, new beach huts installed and building of a new hub with toilets and changing rooms is underway.
In all, it’s a brilliant example of community action making a massive difference. And this is a theme that resurfaces often in our pages. For example, in our May issue, we heard from Gavin Price about the long running and eventually successful campaign to restore the marine lake in Clevedon. In April, Jason West told us how another group of sea swimmers in Weymouth persuaded their local council to allow them to refurbish and use a beach hut that had been marked for commercial development.
Community groups also protect favourite outdoor swimming spots. A good example is Sparth Reservoir on the northern edge of the Peak District National Park where action by local swimmers persuaded the Canal and River Trust to remove “no swimming” signs. According to Fiona Weir, who was heavily involved in the campaign, the spot had been used by swimmers for generations. Then, in August 2011 and with no warning, British Waterways (as it was then) put up no swimming signs. The campaigners engaged the local MP, organised a splash mob and were able to present valid counter-arguments to every reason British Waterways had for erecting the signs. However, it was only in March this year, after nearly six years of campaigning, that the signs were eventually replaced. Meanwhile, and partly as a result of the publicity surrounding the campaign, there are more people swimming at Sparth than before the original no swimming signs went up.
Another case is that of Swan Pool in Sandwell Valley Country Park. The water here was being used by a triathlon group for training but who discouraged swimming outside of their control. Sarah Lewis, a local swimmer, was part of a group that pushed for the venue to be recognised as a swimming location. With the support of a local councillor, who happened to be an outdoor swimming fan, they persuaded the council to put up “swim at your own risk” signs. The lake is now open for recreational swimming except when it is being used for sailing.
All this leads me to wonder whether communities are in fact the best thing about outdoor swimming. You possibly already share cake with the people you swim with. You may even socialise with your swimming buddies outside of swimming but I wonder if you fully appreciate the power of what swimming communities can do? So, to steal from and miss-quote JF Kennedy, ask not what your swimming community can do for you – ask what you can do for your swimming community. Every community depends on its members to make things happen, whether that’s organising your next group swim, establishing access rights or reversing the closure of well-loved swimming spot. What will you do next?