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Millions may have nowhere to turn without funding for pools and leisure

Swim England chief executive Jane Nickerson expresses her delight and dismay as around one in five publicly-owned swimming pools open in the first week.

From Saturday 25 July, swimming pools have been able to reopen their doors and allow people to enjoy a safe return to the water.

Although it was great to see the celebrations of some, only an estimated one in five publicly-owned indoor pools across the country opened.

We anticipate somewhere between 40 and 50 per cent will be open by mid-August but that doesn’t account for local lockdowns and the impact they may have.

Research has also revealed that 30 per cent of public pools could remain closed until 2021.

A huge number of people up and down the country who can’t exercise on dry land due to their conditions have nowhere to turn.

Water-based activity places less stress on joints and makes exercise more comfortable and practical for those with arthritis and musculoskeletal problems.

More than 17 million people across the UK live with these conditions, for which the water provides a soothing form of movement and exercise.

In fact, 58 per cent of people taking part in our Water Wellbeing sessions were inactive prior to starting the sessions.

If as we fear, 30 per cent of public pools do remain closed and many that are open are on a restricted basis, millions of people may be without a form of exercise.

We will not give up the fight

This clearly highlights the urgent need for funding to our sector.

We have continued to put pressure on the Government through the national media, holding a meeting with the Minister for Sport Nigel Huddleston and with our strong backing of the #SaveLeisure campaign.

Unfortunately we believe that there is real risk, that if decisions to keep leisure centres open are based on centre profitability, we will see provision decline in less affluent areas.

As the Parliamentary report published by the Digital, Culture, Media and Sport Select Committee states, pools and leisure facilities are ‘community hubs’ and we want to make sure this continues.

Before the coronavirus pandemic, each year 14 million adults swam and 1.6 million children learn to swim on the Swim England Learn to Swim programme throughout the country.

Any reduction in the number of facilities will not only see the Government’s new obesity strategy fail, but it will also have an impact on the younger generation’s opportunity to learn a valuable life skill.

Ring-fenced funding will provide vital help in numerous areas as we look to get more facilities open, prevent the loss of jobs and prevent the rise in costs.

We understand the frustration from all areas of aquatic activity and we want to reassure them that we will not give up the fight.

For those able to swim this weekend – both indoor and outdoor – please keep social media flooded with our wonderful sports. We love seeing you back in enjoying the water.

Jane M Nickerson

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