With a number of swimming pools across Scotland being earmarked for closure under local authority plans for budget cuts in 2023-24, a ‘Big Swim Day’ has been organised on 24 February as part of a campaign to make councils think again.
Community Leisure UK represents over 100 leisure trusts across the UK and 25 in Scotland that manage the vast majority of the country’s public sport and leisure facilities and services. When created largely in the 1990s by councils to protect the future of sport, leisure and in many areas culture facilities, these charitable trusts received in the region of 80% of their funding from local authorities. However, according to research they have experienced an annual reduction across the past 20 years as a result of squeezed council budgets to the point that many councils have told their trusts that they can no longer provide any funding, and pools, leisure centres and other services must rely solely on fees and charges. This has been a long-term trend and, despite a raft of innovative measures and external funding success by trusts, has contributed to communities finding access to local sport and leisure becoming unaffordable for many.
Now, with soaring energy costs – pools cost millions of pounds more to heat than a decade ago – and loss of staff added to reducing funding, and the UK Government’s withdrawal of support, trusts are fighting with councils to keep facilities open.
Community Leisure UK stated: “We invite the whole community to demonstrate their support for community swimming by coming along and joining them for Big Swim Day. The event, on 24th February, aims to demonstrate the level of local public support for swimming pools and other public leisure and cultural facilities, at a time of unprecedented pressure.
“The recent Government decision to massively scale back financial support for pools to cover energy costs have placed many at risk of closure, as costs have spiralled out of control. Swimming pools are particularly dependent on energy use, both in maintaining the ambient temperature in the facility and in heating the pool water to the right temperature for leisure use.
“The rise in energy costs has come on top of financial challenges arising out of closure during the period of the COVID pandemic, as well as continuing public expenditure constraints over many years.
“Big Swim Day is the ideal opportunity for local people to show support for local community pools, facing unprecedented financial challenges, and while doing so to have a great time and build mental health and physical wellbeing. There’s no need to make special arrangements – just come along on the day.”
Local councillors and politicians have been invited to meet people at the pools and members of the public can show their support for their pools by using the hashtags on social media of #bigswimday and #saveourpools.