The stories of success in Tokyo are inspirational, but closer to home, the swimming pools of Yorkshire are a hive of activity and provide a vital public service.
At Bramley Baths, the only remaining Edwardian Bath house in Leeds, we are proud to be serving people across West Leeds and providing a safe place to swim.
And this paper is right to campaign for Yorkshire to remain home to a vibrant network of pools serving their communities, and helping kids learn how to swim.
I don’t know if this is normal, but one of my fondest memories of learning how to swim was being sent to the bottom of a swimming pool by my Grandad to collect pennies while we were on holiday.
I was lucky enough to be in a safe place, surrounded by people confident in the water, to learn how to be confident myself.
And I’m sure the pennies I collected bought me something incredibly sugary. As well as those holiday “lessons”, I distinctly remember the regular bus trips we took from school to Kirkstall swimming pool in Leeds. I remember being taught the different strokes, being encouraged to swim the full length of the pool, and how to stay safe as well.
The national curriculum expects children leaving primary school to be able to swim 25m competently and be safe in the water. But this paper has highlighted that 20 per cent of children cannot swim unaided by the time they leave primary school. And we don’t yet know what the impact of Covid will be on that figure.
At Bramley Baths, we’re proud to have still taught over 10,000 swimming lessons in the year after Covid – to adults and children – despite being closed for much of the time. But this is lower than in a normal year.
Over the past year, it has been difficult for classes to get to swimming lessons due to Covid – whether because pools have been closed, or the simple logistical challenges of bus journeys and school bubbles. As schools go back for the new school year, it is vital that everyone gets back in the pool.
Of course, these lessons don’t come for free. There is an ongoing cost to councils of running many pools. With councils continuing to be faced with resource constraints, it is not surprising that Yorkshire could be looking at being a swimming pool desert. But swimming is absolutely vital to public health, and needs to be prioritised with school age children.
According to Swim England, drowning is the third most common cause of accidental death in children, and in 2020, a total of 254 people died in accidental drownings, mostly inland rather than at sea. Our founding Chair, John Battle, was well aware of incidents in the Leeds and Liverpool Canal.
The Bramley Baths we know today was born from the idea that swimming could be run through people power.
It was taken over from the council by the local community in 2013, as the council could not maintain it economically.
Since then, the baths has gone from strength to strength as a hub for health and wellbeing in the heart of the community, and remained in the hands of volunteers.
As well as teaching 16 schools in this forthcoming school year, the baths will run private swimming lessons for children, work with the NHS to support peoples’ recovery from Covid, and offer subsidised lessons to people in need.
What’s more, we’ll also work with groups like our Triathlon Club Tri-BB, to give those who can swim a location to keep fit, have fun and socialise as well.
We’ll also be training the next generation of swim teachers and lifeguards, who will provide that safe environment for Yorkshire’s pools.
We don’t know whether any of the kids learning to swim in our pool will grow up to be an Olympian.
What we do know is that the more people we can help teach to swim, the safer our canals, rivers and coasts will be.
We all need public resources to support safe swimming. Not everyone has the luxury of diving for pennies in a holiday swimming pool, but every primary school student should be able to learn how to stay safe in water.
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