Swimming against the tide

Most of learning to swim is confidence in the water.

I struggled to learn to swim without that confidence: once I had it – the surety that I could – I went from struggling with a buoyancy ring to underwater somersaults in what, looking back, feels like months, not years.

A group of scientific researchers in Australia have shown that participation in swimming lessons is benefiting the over all health and well-being of children. Early results of a study at Griffith University in Queensland has revealed that children who learn how to swim at a young age have physical, social, intellectual and language development advantages compared to the non-swimmers. Professor Jorgensen said this study was the largest of its kind in 30 years and stated: “We’ve only just done the first year of the study but already the indicators are suggesting that the children who have been in longer periods of time in early swimming do appear to be hitting those intellectual milestones, those physical milestones, earlier than children who aren’t doing swimming”. – Blue Wave Swim School

Leith Victoria is a nice swimming pool: I like it and I swim there regularly. But it’s a pool designed for people who already can swim. Two lanes are standard for people who want to swim regular lengths without interruption from adults and children splashing about, and so a child who can’t swim yet is confined to a quarter of the pool at most during regular public swimming hours. That’s normal for most pools.

Leith Waterworld was a treasure: a pool designed for all children, for disabled adults, for family use. Closing it down means fewer children will be swimming regularly, learning to have confidence in the water, discovering they love to swim. It’s ironic that this should be Edinburgh’s Olympic & Paralympic memorial: closing a pool that fostered the love of swimming.

Splashback have a proposal which I love and which I doubt the Council will agree to:

The Council are selling the ground lease for the site. We believe that we, the people of Edinburgh, already own Leith Waterworld, and as such we are bidding to buy the ground lease for £1. The decision will be based on achieving ‘best value’ for the city. Splashback believes that ‘value’ is not just about the cost, but about what something offers in return for that investment.

  • The benefits of swimming on people’s health and wellbeing are numerous.
  • The benefits of providing a place where children can get comfortable in water as they learn to swim are well established.
  • The benefits of providing a pool that allows disabled people to enter with dignity are obvious.
  • The benefit of operating a leisure pool in an area where a third of all children live in poverty is just.
  • The benefits to the local economy of having an attraction that brings more people to the area ripple out beyond the amenity into the local community.

In their letter in support of Splashback’s proposal, Greener Leith note:

Economic arguments supporting closure put forward by council officers and their consultants have never taken into account the wider benefits of the facility to the local area.

Anecdotal evidence we have received from local traders suggests that many local shops and cafes used to derive a notable upturn in takings on days when the pool was open. It is therefore extremely likely that closure of the facility has had a significant negative impact on the area around the Foot of the Walk – an area where there are already a high number of vacant properties and shop units.

Conversely, closure hinders local regeneration efforts.

Economically, the case is simple: close down Leith Waterworld, waste all the public investment in the pool over the past 20 years and look for a private buyer for the ground lease: great, Edinburgh Council’s just gives Leith Walk yet another empty greyzone, a space in private ownership that adds nothing to the surrounding area, soon to be just another derelict building waiting for the promised regeneration to make it profitable to do something with the land.

Shrubhill site, Leith Walk

Let Leith Waterworld re-open, and there’s a thriving, much-used, family resource, bringing people to the area and letting local children learn to swim.

The choice is obvious, I’m afraid. Much though I would like Leith Waterworld to stay open, Edinburgh Council’s past record says they will prefer a greyzone site in private ownership to a thriving busy swimming pool.

From Rights to the Commons:

Shrubhill House on Leith Walk has stood derelict for years. The site is dangerous to trespassers: it is not secure and probably cannot be made secure. The site is huge, ugly, a waste of space, a grey hole in Leith Walk that does much to bring it down.

(For a while there was a sign pasted on the All Enquiries board that identified the building as BIG SOCIETY HEADQUARTERS. Gone now, sadly.)

Because a private company owns this site (UNITE groupread about the ownership changes here), and they don’t intend to do anything to develop it until it seems profitable to them to do so, the building and site will stand empty, an eyesore, and a public health and safety hazard.

In effect, UNITE Group have banked the land: the people of Leith can do nothing. (Edinburgh Council have made a number of proposals to UNITE Group, I heard at the Vision for Leith Walk feedback meeting at McDonald Road Library last week [in July]: they’ve suggested demolition and a temporary green space, or wrapping the building to make it a work of art, but none of these projects interested UNITE Group at all. No profit in it for them to keep silly kids and homeless people from hurting themselves, or to take away the greyfield eyesore for the rest of us.)

This is (slightly)hopeful:

If you live in Edinburgh you can write to your councillors and ask them to support Leith Waterworld this Thursday: ask them how turning a public pool into another derelict building fits their vision for Leith Walk.

Update, 20th September

Tom Farmer, Kwik-Fit founder:

“With the success of our athletes during the Olympics and the Paralympics there is increased demand for sports facilities and it would be a great loss at this time and for future generations to lose all that Leith Waterworld has to offer.

“Whilst acknowledging the operational and financial cost of this facility, I urge the 
council to look closely at finding a way forward by working with Splashback to ensure that this community project is successful in retaining an important community swimming pool.”

Webcast begins at 10am: Watch it here.

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Filed under Children, Disability, of Edinburgh, Olympics, Scottish Politics

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