How to stop Your Community Pool from being closed!

I. Why Community Pools are Important

"Swimming is recognised as being uniquely beneficial to the nation’s health and well being. Simply because it can be enjoyed by everyone across all ages and abilities."

2nd most popular activity

Swimming is second only to walking as the UK's most popular physical activity with nearly a quarter of all adults and half of young people swimming on a regular basis.

Essential for health and safety

For many with various ailments and disabilities it is the only form of exercise that they can undertake.

And it is essential for everyone to be able to swim - so that entirely unnecessary deaths from drownings are avoided and everyone can enjoy the pure pleasure that swimming provides!

Important community focal points

Swimming pools are also very important focal points in many communities and when they are lost not only the health benefits but an element of community cohesion just disappears.

1,400 swimming clubs in the UK

It is estimated that there are about 1,400 voluntary organisations involved in swimming clubs of one type or another in the UK.

They range from small clubs teaching children to swim up to very large clubs that are involved in every different type of swimming competition such as swimming, diving, triathlon training, synchronised swimming, water polo, open water and disabled swimming.

4,500 swimming pools in England

Swimming Clubs are estimated to use about 4,500 pools in England. About half of the total are provided by the local authorities or trusts.

Schoools, colleges and universities provide about one quarter and the balance are commercially owned.

II. Swimming Pool Trends

Commercial Pool Growth

There has been significant growth in the number of commercial pools that are used for both fitness and recreation.

However, these pools tend to be smaller and shallower - obviously to keep costs down - and are pretty unlikely to provide competition swimming or swimming teaching facilities.

Public Swimming Pool Funding is under massive threat

It is becoming increasingly obvious that Local Authorities just don't have the money to keep swimming pools open.

The lack of funding available is being exacerbated by the hundreds of council pools that were built in the 1960's and 1970's and now need substantial investment to bring them up to required Heath, Safety & Sustainability standards.

Similarly, many swimming pools in schools were also built in the 1960's and 1970's and these also need substantial investment at a time of massive pressure on education budgets.

So many swimming pools are likely to be closed

Even though there is strong local opposition many local authority and school pools are likely to be closed even though they are an essential part of the local community fabric.

III. Pool Closure is a disastrously short-sighted policy

It seems obvious to us that we must preserve the right to go swimming and for children to learn how to swim and enjoy the water in every community.

But what is the answer? - It seems likely that the only way forward is to provide carefully designed new or refurbished existing pools that can be used on a shared basis by schools, commercial users and the wider community.

As such, it is essential to combine sports, teaching and leisure facilities in every pool project.

For instance, did you know that the triathlon is one of the fastest growing sports - and they need to spend at least an hour a day in a swimming pool!

Therfore, we must increase awareness of the necessity for good design in swimming facilities to encourage the development of well designed facilities that meet the needs of both sports, teaching and leisure use.

Until now Local Authorities were the only organisation that could develop coherent strategies to ensure that swimming facilities continue to be available for use by schools as well as the entire community. However, this poses many problems because public swimming pools are very complex buildings that:

The design of the swimming pool complex must at the same time:

IV. Local Authority has insufficient funds

If the local authority cannot do this because of financial constraints what is the best way for the Community to achieve this?

The only way forward in these circumstances is for the Community to set itself up as a "Save our Pool" group that:

V. Financial Viability

The assessment of financial viability must be run in tandem with the pool planning and design process to take into account:

Strategic Issues that need to be considered

These will include:

  1. The Local Authorities Pool Retention Strategy
  2. Sport Objectives
  3. Catchment Area user profiles
  4. Refurbishment or New-build
  5. Relationship with and Impact on existing facilities
  6. Who will be the main users
  7. What activities need to be provided for
  8. Number, type, size and pool depths
  9. Maximum bathing load
  10. Use for competitive swimming
  11. Spectator area requirement

VI. How Can Local Community Groups preserve and develop swimming pool facilities?

It is Essential to generate as many income streams as possible.

It is becoming increasingly obvious that all public or community owned pools will need to develop as many income streams as possible from every part of the community as the gap between revenue and operating costs is always the cause of pool closure - not the initial capital cost.
A pool that is in use for 100 hours a week will always be more viable than one that is in use for 40 hours a week - note "in use" - not "open for use"!

The 5 Economic Factors will always decide whether a pool project is viable - not the Capital Cost on its own.

Most local community groups focus on the capital cost of their project. This is a fundamental error because the success or failure of a community pool project will depend on the following Economic Factors:-

  1. The catchment area and potential users including swimming clubs, schools, health / fitness clubs etc and the potential revenue from each group
  2. The pool project components that are essential for the pool to service the demands of the potential users  (The pool itself, equipment, changing areas, showers, admin, refreshment areas etc)
  3. Options or  "Nice to Haves" - and potential revenue increase
  4. Capital, Operating and Maintenance costs
  5. The potential amount of any annual subsidy

The capital cost of a viable pool cannot be estimated until the User Requirements and the level of User Revenue generation are known.

There is no point in trying to guesstimate capital costs of building a new pool or renovation of an old one before the Overall Economics of the pool project have been identified. Simply because you do not know what is needed to meet the User Requirements.

To many people, this will seem like a Chicken and Egg situation - but it is not just because the capital cost is rarely dominant in the many factors that will determine the success or failure of any pool project.

For instance, a typical pool building can use up to 5x the energy of an office building as such the balance between capital cost and operating is fundamental to the viability of any pool project.

Hence it is essential to have a financial model that can identify the correct balance between capital and operating costs.

VII. Project Development Process

Considering the aforementioned, the community group's pool project development process should always involve an approach that is similar to following:

Step 1:

Set up the community group, elect leaders, allocate responsibilities and identify the project objectives in terms of the potential users pool facility requirements - (Note - The objective should never be "Find enough money to refurbish the exisiting pool "- that has nothing to do with the basic problem).

Step 2:

Identify a professional from the community group or a consultant that can carry out an economic analysis to identify the Net Present Value of the project and provide Balance Sheet, Revenue and Cost forecasts over the first 10 years life of the pool project.

Step 3:

Gather the data required based on the '5 Economic Factors' listed above then build and run a spreadsheet model that will include capital, revenue and operating cost options and the NPV of the options.

Step 4:

Identify the site for the new pool or carry out a survey of the pool to be renovated and prepare costs estimates of the facilities required that will meet the demands of the Users identified in the economic analysis.

Step 5:

Re-run the economic model with the refined capital costs, continue to iterate the process to refine the analysis and when it is optimised make the decision to proceed or not based on the Balance Sheet and Profit and Loss forecasts over the first 10 years life of the pool project's life.

Step 6:

Borrow the funds to build the pool based on the Balance Sheet and Profit and Loss Forecasts and badger the Local Authority and local businesses to either provide the site or money to buy the site.

VIII. Summary

Projects like this need Pool Design & Project Management specialists like Bluepools.

Neither the building industry nor the pool installation contractors are geared up to help such groups because it is vital to identify the economic factors before you can start any pool renovation project.

Bluepools can assist in the implementation of pool projects for wide community use by the provision of:

Keeping the capital cost of a Pool down to a minimum.

Bluepools can also help to keep the capital cost of your pool project down by acting as your Project Manager on a fee basis. All the specialist subcontractors can then be employed on a direct contract by the charitable trust that will probably be put in place to manage the project.

This approach can save 25% of the pool capital cost because the over-head and profit margins that a main contractor would take from the project are avoided.