“It’s not just a pool, it’s everything to people.”
So says the chairman of Ashton Swimming Club, Steve Shilley, ahead of the impending closure of Ashton Pool – the leisure centre where the club, founded in 1895, has been based for decades.
Ashton Swimming Club
Active Tameside, the trust that runs all the borough’s public leisure facilities, has announced the closure of the Active Ashton site, along with its Active Etherow and Active Longdendale facilities in September.
Active Ashton has two swimming pools and a gym, Adventure Longdendale contains a trampoline park, laser zone and soft play area for children, and Active Etherow is the trust’s dedicated indoor bowling centre.
Huge increase in energy bills
The charity says that the huge increase in energy bills has taken the cost of utilities at its sites up to £2 million a year.
The situation has been worsened by price rises for products such as chemicals, insurance and the cost of staff.
Tameside council, which owns the buildings, insists the state of its finances also means it cannot afford to pick up the bill and rescue the sites.
The two MPs whose constituencies cover the affected areas, Angela Rayner and Jonathan Reynolds, say that while the news is ‘disappointing’, there is ‘no other option’.
However, users of the sites, especially at Ashton Pool, have been vocal in their unhappiness at the announcement, with many saying it will adversely affect people who swim locally for their physical and mental health.
A petition calling on the council to save Active Ashton has been signed by more than 4,200 people.
And Mr Shilley, who has been teaching at Ashton Pool since 1974, says they will not take the news lying down.
“We are still campaigning. We have still got all the parents on our side, everybody is trying,” he adds.
“It’s not just the club affected either, it’s all the other groups using it.
“There is a certain generation that’s going to grow up without having that opportunity to learn to swim.
“For older people who come and meet there, it’s their community, it’s a lifeline.
“It was a massive shock when we were told it was closing, I’d heard nothing. It just came out of the blue and honestly left me feeling sick.”
Mr Shilley says the club currently has 150 members, aged four and up, with around 70 people participating in swimming competitions.
But he fears the club relocating across two other venues in the borough will drastically affect their members, as well as moving their equipment between sites proving a ‘nightmare’.
“We’re going to lose a lot of them because a lot of people live in Ashton and they work in Ashton or can walk to Ashton, or they can get a bus. Wherever you are in Tameside you can get a bus to Ashton,” he adds. “It’s going to affect so many people.”
He is also concerned about the impact on schoolchildren who currently attended organised swimming lessons at Ashton Pool, and will have to travel to facilities elsewhere.
“There are 500 plus schoolchildren in a week that use it. How long are these children going to be taken out of lessons to go to another pool?,” he asks. “You’re just taking more and more time out of the school day.
“I’ve heard people are being asked to look as far away as Rochdale for swimming lessons. How many children in Ashton are going to miss out on learning to swim? It’s just so short-sighted.”
A new swimming pool in Ashton?
He wants the council and Active Tameside to hold off progressing any closures until successful bids to a £63m government swimming pool support fund, managed by Sport England, are announced.
Speaking about the council, Mr Shilley adds: “They have got to take responsibility for their own public buildings,
“They are not thinking of the health and well-being of the public, and how many of them it’s going to impact.
“In Manchester, they shut the pool they had for the Commonwealth Games for a full revamp, they have looked after the pool and not just let it decay.
“Other authorities look after their pools, why can’t Tameside?”
Speaking at a meeting of the full council on Tuesday night, council leader Councillor Ged Cooney said they promised to support the leisure trust but were not able to provide a financial rescue package.
He told councillors: “At the beginning of this month, our leisure provider, Active Tameside, announced they had no choice but to close three of their sites.
“This is not a decision that has been taken lightly but the simple fact is that the numbers no longer add up.
“The current financial climate, particularly around increases in energy and related products such as chemicals, insurance and peoples’ cost, have hammered the leisure sector nationwide.
“Energy bills have increased between 150pc to 200pc compared to 2021. Swimming pools are especially hit because of their high consumption.
“To put it in local terms, this has taken Active Tameside’s utilities spend up to £2m a year. We have every sympathy for the plight they are facing and have done everything in our power to support them through these difficult times.
“Unfortunately we have now reached the limits of what we can do in terms of financial resources. We remain proud of the leisure offer that Active Tameside delivers to our residents.”
Reg Patel, Interim CEO – Director of Operations and Assets at Active Tameside, has described the Active Ashton site as an ‘ageing and increasingly fragile facility’,
Active Tameside says it is relocating schools, members, service users and clubs to its other facilities, while supporting staff to find roles at its other sites. The organisation adds that it remains not-for-profit, with all profits invested into the facilities.
In a statement, a spokesperson said that over the past 18 months, the ‘significant financial changes’ in the national economy had ‘ravaged’ its financial capacity to remain financially viable as an organisation.
“Our key stakeholder, Tameside council, although highly sympathetic to our plight again faces its own challenges and unfortunately any additional financial support cannot be offered,” a spokesperson said.
“Unfortunately, due to the amount required, it is with deep regret that we must announce the closures of three of our sites; Active Ashton, Adventure Longdendale and Active Etherow. The sites have been selected on their current levels of subsidy and the physical fabric of the site, has also been considered.
“We understand this will have a significant impact on our community but unfortunately all possible cost-cutting measures have already been taken, this is the only option to secure the future of our other eight centres and facilities.”
The trust has confirmed that Active Etherow, which is located on the upper floor of the Etherow Centre in Broadbottom, will close on September 1, with both Active Ashton and Adventure Longdendale shutting on September 3.