Swim England

A nation swimming

Swimming participation was on rise before coronavirus pandemic struck

The number of people swimming was on the rise before the coronavirus pandemic struck, according to new figures.

Sport England’s Active Lives Survey showed that around four million people were swimming at least  twice in the space of 28 days between mid-January and mid-March 2020 – 200,000 more compared with the previous 12 months.

The subsequent lockdowns and pool closures caused a dramatic drop in the figures and although people started to return to indoor pools when they were reopened on 25 July 2020, restrictions on numbers and facilities remaining shut led to more than two million fewer adults taking part in the activity than 2018-19.

Sport England’s data covers the period from mid-November 2019 to mid-November 2020 and does not take into account the most recent lockdown at the beginning of this year.

Jane Nickerson, Swim England chief executive, said the figures were ‘not surprising’ considering facilities had been forced to close for lengthy periods throughout 2020.

Although the next set of figures will include the third national lockdown imposed at the start of January, Jane hoped the fact that indoor pools were now open again – coupled with Imperial College London research which shows chlorine inactivates Covid-19 – would lead to the numbers climbing.

She said: “It’s really encouraging to see that more people were swimming at the beginning of last year compared with 2019 – and a real shame, but not surprising, that growth was curtailed by the pool closures.

“It was inevitable the figures would fall sharply but with 90 per cent of public pools in England now open following the last lockdown, we are pleased to see people returning to the water once again.

“The Imperial College London research has proved what we were saying all along – that swimming is done in a safe and secure environment.

High demand

“We are doing everything we can to satisfy demand but the continued need for social distancing inevitably means less capacity.

“Many pools operate on very thin margins and therefore it is important that the Government continues to financially support our pools to ensure they can remain open for people to return to.

“The figures show there is the demand – the Government must ensure we still have the pools people need and want.

“Anecdotal evidence from venues up and down the country since reopening has shown there is high demand for Learn to Swim sessions, especially parent and baby swimming, while operators are reporting recreational sessions are also extremely popular.

“Fingers crossed, the numbers of people going swimming regularly will rise over the coming months as the restrictions ease further and people look to emulate what we hope will be an extremely successful Olympic Games for Team GB. We must ensure we still have the pools for them to use.”

The Active Lives data can be viewed on the Sport England website.