In this feature, our Community Journalist Simone Illger takes a look at the current state of swimming pool facilities in Reading and the timetable for replacement pools. Scroll to the end of the article for a guide to facilities for disabled swimmers.
Swimming is an essential part of life for many individuals with long-term health conditions (such as arthritis, Parkinson’s or MS) or those recovering from joint replacement surgery. Swimming allows the retention or improvement of mobility and can help with strengthening to reduce chronic pain and inflammation. A non-weight bearing exercise, swimming doesn’t place stress on bones, joints and muscles, so it’s perfect for many elderly and disabled people.
Swimming pool closures in Reading
Until recently, Reading has had several pools which offer public swimming sessions: Central Pool, Arthur Hills, the Meadway and South Reading Leisure Centre. Swimmers could also travel slightly further afield to Bulmershe and Carnival pools in neighbouring Wokingham.
With unfortunate timing, most of these swimming pools have reached the end of their useful lives over the past three years. Arthur Hills closed at the end of 2016, followed by the Central Pool at the end of 2017 (the closure of Central Pool took place once a 25 metre demountable pool at Rivermead was completed, which has at least ensured some continuity of provision pending the development of new facilities in Reading). In Wokingham, Carnival Pool was closed in June 2016 and Bulmershe in February 2018.
In 2016-2017, the Royal Berkshire Hospital’s Hydro pool also came under threat of closure, without any prior consultation with its users, for whom the service is essential. The pool received a temporary reprieve following a successful campaign led by users who rely on the pool for rehabilitation and pain relief.
Plans are underway for replacement pools, but in the meantime the town’s operational swimming facilities are diminished.
Planned replacement pools
Grant Thornton, Head of Economic and Cultural Development at Reading Borough Council, talked to me about how long the town is expected to wait before new pools are commissioned and operational.
“The process is underway to procure a new operator to provide and then manage new leisure facilities, replacing those which have closed down in recent years. The process of going out to tender is fairly complicated and the first stage of this is underway. An Official Journal of the European Union (OJEU) Notice has been published. This is a process required by EU legislation for all contracts from the public sector valued above a certain financial threshold.
The outline timetable for the process is around 12 months, which would be followed by a ‘stand still’ and mobilisation period. This means that the successful operator will be taking on existing facilities from around early autumn 2019. The specification covers both development of new facilities and improvements to existing ones. In these times of austerity, and with the current lack of council resources, affordability is an important aspect of the procurement process.
The council is asking for — as a minimum — a 25 metre competition standard pool with provision for diving and other underwater activities. At this stage, a 50 metre pool is not being ruled out. It is hoped that the new provider will be able to offer a radical improvement in facilities compared to what Reading presently has.
Although both Arthur Hills pool and the Central pool may hold a lot of sentimental value to the residents of Reading, they were in a very poor condition. Procuring an external operator who can bring expertise will ensure that Reading ends up with leisure facilities that the town can be proud of.”
Reading Borough Council still operate Meadway, South Reading and the Palmer Park leisure facilities, but it is envisaged that by the end of the procurement process there will be one operator across all the facilities providing a contracted service on behalf of the council. The council will still have a role in setting performance standards and contract managing the operators.
In the meantime, swimmers will continue to have access to the pools at Meadway and South Reading Leisure Centre, alongside the temporary demountable 25 metre pool at Rivermead that opened in January this year.
Facilities for disabled swimmers
Times: Disabled sessions take place on Tuesday 2.00pm – 3.00pm (term time only) and Friday 6.00pm – 7.00pm and Sunday 4.00pm – 6pm (all year round).
Cost: £1 per child/adult, £1 per carer.
Facilities: Disabled poolside changing room; secure chair (not hoist) that can be lowered into the pool; lifeguards on hand to help out where needed.
Further information: For 1:1 lessons please contact Rivermead for up-to-date information. For all swim enquiries, contact Ester Shears on 0118 901 5000.
Times: There are no specific sessions for people with disabilities, however, South Reading Leisure centre say that the Stay Active session that takes place on a Monday between 11.00am and 12.00 noon is currently very quiet and the perfect environment for people with special needs. The session is aimed at older people, offering a gentle swim without children splashing or other adults ploughing up and down in lanes. They also offer Aquatone sessions on a Wednesday evening at 7.00pm and Friday mornings at 11.15am. These are fun non-weight bearing exercise classes.
Facilities: The swimming pool is shallow throughout making it ideal for people who are less able or unsteady on their feet to keep their balance and confidence. The swimming pool is deck level allowing easier access. They also have disabled steps that have wider treads and are less angled than normal poolside steps. We have a hoist on the poolside that can be used during any swimming session. All of our staff are trained to use it and are happy to assist anyone who requires this equipment. In both the male and female wet side changing rooms there is a dedicated self-contained toilet, shower and changing area that allows wheelchair access. These rooms have grab rails and emergency alarms to offer additional support and reassurance.
Times: Currently, the quiet times during general sessions are on Monday – Friday, 9.15am – 10.15am, and Tuesday – Friday 12 noon – 1pm.
Cost: Reading Borough Residents can apply for a Your Reading Passport to gain free entry.
Facilities: There is a family changing room which is wheelchair accessible. On the poolside there is a hoist which the lifeguards on duty are trained to assist with when needed. There is easy accessibility to the pool water by using the shallow gradient steps.
Further information: Also offers 30 minute swimming classes for students on the SEN spectrum. These are small classes with a ratio of 1 teacher for 4 students.