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‘Investing in swimming pools will help save the public purse a fortune’

Swim England chief executive Jane Nickerson has told the Government investing in the long-term future of swimming pools will ‘help save the public purse a fortune’ – and support the health and success of the nation.

During a reception at Parliament to mark the publication of the national governing body’s latest Value of Swimming report, Jane urged MPs to ‘help us to help you’ due to the ‘valuable’ nature of aquatic activity.

The updated Value of Swimming report revealed how water-based activity helps generate social value of £2.4 billion a year – and that it prevented 78,500 cases of ill health in 2022.

However, it warned that 1,000 publicly accessible pools have closed since 2010 – while, around 1,500 are in excess of 40 years old and coming towards the end of their ‘shelf life’.

More than 150 people, including the Minister for Sport Stuart Andrew, MPs, doctors, local government officials and representatives from the swimming sector, attended the reception at Westminster – and also heard about Swim England’s Don’t Put a Cap on Swimming campaign.

During her speech, Jane said: “Our new Value of Swimming report, updating our previous report from 2019, tells us what many in this room already know and see every day. 

“That is how valuable swimming is. 

“We see it every day in the lives that are improved and enriched by time in the water – be it a pool, lido, river, lake or sea. 

“We see it in the swimming lessons, club sessions, wild swims, aqua Zumba classes, dementia friendly swims, family-fun sessions, parent and baby classes and more. 

“There is something for everyone when it comes to the water. 

“However, it is helpful to have robust data to be able to begin to quantify that value to help all those advocating on behalf of pools and it is our hope that this report will prove useful for many beyond just today.

“A lot has happened since we last gathered in November 2019 and it’s fair to say it’s been a turbulent time for our pools since then, dealing with the pandemic, swiftly followed by an energy crisis.

“Over the past decade or so pools have, by necessity, needed to focus more and more on revenue generation. This is fine up to a point but is not the route to tackling inequalities or supporting those that could really benefit the most from the water to participate.

Scale of the challenge

“This, coupled with recent pressures on council finances and increased demand for statutory services such as social care and homelessness has created a cocktail that puts the future of many facilities in doubt. 

“To be fair to the Government, financial support has been provided through the Swimming Pool Support Fund, bolstered by some lottery funding from Sport England. 

“We know it is particularly hard to get money out of the Treasury so credit to the Minister, DCMS officials and others in this room for their hard work on that which has been warmly welcomed and will make a difference.

“However, as the Government itself recognised in the strategy, that was about creating the breathing space to take a longer-term approach to facilities. 

“We have to be realistic about the scale of the challenge facing our pools and recognise that we need to put them on a secure long-term footing for the future to ensure we have the sustainable pools we need as a country.” 

Jane added that better collaborative working can ensure ‘swimming is enjoyed equally by all’ and help play a part ‘in reducing pressures on our NHS and helping people to live happier lives’.

She said: “Greater integration at both the strategic and operational level between health systems, leisure providers and local authority partners can support the pivot to wellbeing in our leisure centres and pools that will maximise the contribution these facilities can play to the health and wellbeing of the nation.

“Co-location of services, greater use of social prescribing of aquatic activities and the pooling of resources and priorities through Integrated Care Systems can help deliver this and tackle key shared local health needs.

“There are pockets of fantastic practice already taking place in parts of the country and at the national level we at Swim England are trying to play our role.

“However, we know there is more to do and we need to make it the norm rather than just pockets and to ensure our pools are at the heart of an active wellbeing service that saves the NHS, helps boost the economy and strengthens local communities.

“That would be my final message to government. Help us to help you. This isn’t about handouts. 

“This is about a sustainable long-term footing for the facilities that can and should be at the very forefront of achieving a whole host of policy objectives that will save the public purse a fortune.

“This is an investment which has a massive return on that investment – both in financial terms but also in the personal value to those individuals whose life is healthier and happier through swimming.”