Tag Archives: swimming

Swimming with the tide

Remember Leith Waterworld?

This was a unique facility at the foot of Leith Walk – a swimming pool with shallow areas and room to play. Edinburgh Leisure had nothing else like it. Leith Waterworld was closed in January 2012, and sold to a commercial property developer in May 2013. Nothing has been done with the site since: it’s just another greyzone area in Leith.

The decision to sell the site for a million pounds to a property developer was defended by the SNP councillor for Colinton / Fairmilehead, Richard Lewis, who is now the City culture and sport convenor, as “we had to be realistic” since a property developer will promise to develop the site as a soft-play area and generate 80 jobs [which did happen eventually…] whereas Splashback, the community campaign to re-open Leith Waterworld, was “a long punt”. (By December 2014, the main sign of that promised “substantial investment” in the area was a pile of dangerous rubbish left outside the Leith Waterworld building for over a week: the property developer, based in Glasgow, professed themselves entirely unaware of the rubbish heap.)

As I wrote in September 2012:

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.

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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.
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Sporty kids aren’t bullied

Between twelve and sixteen I was a junior member of the British Sub-Aqua Club. We met at Portobello swimming pool – back when there was a salt-water pool. For years, every Monday night, I spent a couple of hours learning how to swim underwater with a snorkel and mask and fins. I played underwater hockey. We did a week up on Skye where we learned how to dive off a boat, and wear wetsuits, and knife discipline.

All divers carry knives, because you may get tangled in seaweed or a net: knife discipline was the senior instructor informing us, in a tone that made clear he meant what he said, that we were each being issued with a knife, that this knife was to stay in its sheath, that if any of us ever EVER took the knife out of its sheath without a good reason or above water AT ALL or were seen messing about with it, that was IT, the kid who did it was never going back in the water again. A dozen teenage boys and two girls listened with awed attention and you better believe that we never did. (That I still remember that lecture thirty years later – he was memorable.)

I loved it, and I was good at it. Women have a slight genetic edge over men in learning how to dive and to swim in cold water, but I mention this just for the sake of smugness: most of it is training. I loved being able to use my fins to zip through the water like a fish. I loved being able to see underwater. Snorkelling was great. I had huge confidence in the water and would have liked to learn how to use an aqualung. It was an entirely new experience for me when the other kids started demanding to be on my team when we played underwater hockey, because my team usually won.
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