Do we have enough swimming pools in East Anglia?
09:31 23 January 2014
A new league table reveals that people in south Norfolk are among the least likely to swim regularly in the country.
But are we really sinking or are we in fact in the fast lane when it comes to the number of people swimming in East Anglia?
Swimming is the second most popular activity in the UK, behind fishing, and is one of the best ways to get fit.
“It’s very good as an exercise and one of the best things you can do,” said Ben Jones, Active Norfolk’s sports development manager who will take over as director from next month. “It’s really good for people with arthritis because it’s non-weight bearing and it exercises the whole body.
“However people face issues around body confidence and many are facing increased time and financial constraints so accessing good facilities on their doorstep which are affordable is really important.”
The Olympic effect
The performance of Team GB’s swimmers was one of the few disappointments of London 2012.
Rebecca Adlington, above, won two bronze medals and Michael Jamieson a silver, but that was short of UK Sport’s target of between five and seven podium finishes.
The picture was more rosy in Beijing, when GB came away with two golds, thanks to Rebecca Adlington, and two silver and two bronze medals.
Expectations had been raised after the team claimed six medals at the 2011 World Championships.
But at the 2013 event in Barcelona, British swimmers could only claim one – a 50m freestyle bronze for Francesca Halsall.
While the link between elite performance and wider recreational participation is unclear, Alex Pinniger, head coach at the UEA City of Norwich Swimming Club, believes Norfolk swimmers have been inspired by the Paralympic success of the club’s Jessica-Jane Applegate, who was just 15 when she won a gold medal in 2012 in London.
He said: “We have 1,300 members in the club and everybody was tuned in to watch and we had probably about 100 to 150 go down and get tickets to watch it live.
“When you see somebody who has grown up in the area and is only 15 win a gold medal in London it doesn’t get more inspirational than that. It’s absolutely fantastic.”
The new league table, based on Sport England data, showed that just 5.7pc of the adults in south Norfolk say they swim once a week, putting it 201st out of 221 local authorities. Neighbouring swimmers from north Norfolk dive in slightly more often, with 6.6pc swimming once a week which positions the area at 159, while Norwich comes in at number 106 with 7.3pc of adults putting in the lengths at least once a week.
Diabetes UK published the league table to launch its Swim 22 challenge to encourage people to get fit while raising money for the charity by swimming 22 miles - the distance across the English Channel - between February 22 and May 22.
Sharon Roberts, eastern regional manager for Diabetes UK, said: “There are around 24,900 people in north and south Norfolk with diabetes and of those 5,400 don’t know they have the condition.
“Swimming is a great way of getting your regular physical activity. And because many people find it so enjoyable, it is something they may be more likely to stick to in the long run.”
Swimming pools where members of the public can swim include:
Beccles - Beccles Lido (from May to September only)
Bradwell - Phoenix Pool
Bungay - Bungay Pool and Gym
Dereham - Dereham Leisure Centre
Diss - Diss Swim and Fitness Centre
Downham Market - Downham Market Leisure Centre
Great Yarmouth - Great Yarmouth Marina Centre
Hunstanton - Oasis Sports and Leisure Centre
King’s Lynn - St James’ Swimming and Fitness Centre
Lowestoft - Waterlane Leisure Centre
North Walsham - Victory Swimming and Fitness Centre
Norwich - Riverside Leisure Centre
Norwich - Sportspark at the UEA
Sheringham - Splash Leisure and Fitness Centre
Stradbroke - Stradbroke Swim and Fitness Centre
Thetford - Breckland Leisure Centre
Wymondham - Wymondham Leisure Centre
Alex Pinniger, head coach at the UEA City of Norwich Swimming Club, believes swimming facilities in and around Norwich are “the best facilities in Great Britain”, particularly because of the wealth of pools in schools and at a grassroots level.
He said: “The Riverside is an excellent swimming pool in the centre of Norwich and we use the Sportspark which is, I believe, a world-class facility.
“I think we are very spoilt in Norwich and Norfolk at the moment.”
However, there is an acknowledgement that more access to pools is always wanted by clubs and swimmers.
Mr Jones said: “The thing I always hear from swimming clubs is they want more pool time and more access to pools.
“But from a pool planning perspective, pools are a huge financial drain and very few, if any, pools make any money. Almost without exception, they lose money.”
With 37,000 new homes and 27,000 new jobs planned for the greater Norwich area by 2026, it’s important to ensure that current leisure facilities are improved and increased.
Ben Jones, from Active Norfolk, said Greater Norwich Development Partnership (GNDP) has commissioned a study, which is hoped to be completed towards the end of this year, looking at what current leisure facilities and swimming pools there are in the area, and what will be needed if extra homes are built.
The document will be used to apply for funding from bodies like Sport England, as well as for securing financial contributions from housebuilders.
Mr Jones says: “It is likely to suggest the need to invest in existing school pools and other community sports facilities.”
Many parents are unaware that it is a statutory Key Stage 2 requirement for a child to swim 25m unaided.
The results of the largest ever school swimming census conducted in England, by the Amateur Swimming Association (ASA) in 2013, found that this is met by just 49pc of state school pupils.
Put starkly, 1.1 million school children cannot swim. The census collected data from more than 3,500
primary schools across England, and gathered opinions from more than 1,000 parents.
The census figure for Norfolk, although it is based on a small sample of respondents, was 64pc - which placed it among the best performing counties.
The census found the chief barrier to schools providing swimming lessons was the cost - for example the cost of transporting children to a pool and the hire cost of the pool, or in maintaining a school swimming pool.
Mick Castle, Norfolk County Council cabinet member for education and schools, said: “It is positive that more children in Norfolk are achieving the expected levels at swimming in Key Stage 2 than seen nationally. However, schools are not complacent and are keen to explore ways of ensuring that as many children as possible can benefit from swimming lessons.
“This can be particularly challenging in a large rural county like Norfolk, as many children will have to travel some distance to a pool. We offer advice to head teachers about how to make the best of planning this within the curriculum and have developed specific, bespoke training for teachers and teaching assistants so that they can work alongside swimming instructors to support the learning poolside, so that pupils get the most from their planned swimming lessons.
“A swimming instructor cannot supervise a full class of up to 30 children at any one time on their own and the county training course for school teachers means that they are able to work with the instructor to include the whole class. This means that all children can benefit from a full lesson, rather than having to take turns in the pool.
“We believe this has had an impact on standards of teaching and pupil achievement, together with the very effective and hard work of the swimming instructors at the various pools used by Norfolk’s schools.”
The UEA City of Norwich Swimming Club teaches around 1,000 children to swim through its Norwich Penguins scheme, which has 36 highly-trained teachers.
Head coach Alex Pinniger said while many cities had closed school swimming pools, leaving only one or two, Norwich still has 10 or 11 based in and around the city, which are used extensively for teaching children to swim.
Many competitive swimmers are under 18, and the sport has a high drop-out rate from the mid to late teens, but the swimming club is hoping to encourage more swimmers to continue into their 20s through partnership schemes with the UEA and Easton College.
Do you think there are enough swimming pools in East Anglia? Do you swim often? If not, what are the reasons why you don’t swim? Please add your comments below.