Cost of living threat to swimming pools, says survey

By Craig Duggan
BBC Wales news

  • Published
A boy swimming at Calon Tysul
Image caption,
A survey has warned almost 80% of pools could shut because of fuel costs

Swimming pools in Wales are facing an "existential threat" as heating costs rocket with the cost of living crisis.

A survey by ukactive, which promotes leisure services, warned almost 80% of pools could shut because of fuel costs.

Community-run leisure centre Calon Tysul, in Llandysul, Ceredigion, has already made service cuts as it faces losing £7,000 a month.

It is now paying almost three times as much as last year to heat the pool as a result of soaring fuel prices.

Swim Wales said the centre was not alone and that many pools face uncertain futures because of increased running costs.

Its aquatics and inclusion head Sioned Williams called it "a huge concern".

'Future is dark'

She said: "We're still understanding the immediate risk [in Wales]. However, looking into the future it is dark.

"We are obviously looking at it from health and wellbeing for our community. It's the future of swimming in Wales.

"We need these facilities to ensure that the public has somewhere to swim on a weekly basis or just be aquatically active."

It was essential facilities remained open, Ms Williams said.

"Everyone in Wales should have the opportunity to be aquatically active," she added.

Calon Tysul trustee and treasurer Iestyn ap Dafydd said a year ago diesel to heat the pool cost 40p a litre but has gone up to about £1.10 a litre.

'Real struggle'

"We use about 1,500 litres a week on heating, so that's a massive, massive increase," he said.

"We've just had to renew one of our electric contracts and that has gone from £1,800 a quarter to £1,800 a month. So the energy costs are phenomenal.

"It's costing us about £200 to £250 a day to heat the pool, so it's a real struggle."

Image caption,
Leisure centre treasurer Iestyn ap Dafydd says the price of diesel has almost tripled

To cut costs, public swimming sessions have been reduced.

According to manager Matt Adams, the centre is putting swimming lessons for children first.

He said: "In the last week or so we've had to make some dramatic changes to our offering.

"Before, we would be opening the pool for 50-plus hours per week. We've had to break that down to about 30 hours a week just to save on our costs.

"We're doing things like turning off our boiler at night and turning it back on in the morning to see if that helps us."

He added: "It's a worrying time. It's definitely a sector-wide problem, I know that lots of pools are going to be in the same or similar situation as us."

Calon Tysul plans to fit solar panels to bring down the electricity bill and is looking for a more sustainable way to heat the pool.

Image caption,
Calon Tysul manager Matt Adams says the centre has been turning off the boiler at night to save cash

Swim Wales' Ms Williams said other centres had also reduced hours.

Some had considered dropping the water temperature.

But there were other factors, including staffing problems and a chlorine shortage.

'Stark warning'

Swim Wales cited research that showed 52% of 7-11 year olds are unable to swim 25 metres unaided.

Ms Williams said: "That's a stark warning to all of us that more needs to be done to ensure that children leave school with the ability to swim because ultimately it's a life skill and it could save their life one day."

A survey by ukactive, which promotes leisure services, warned that swimming pools faced "an existential threat this summer as energy prices risk the worst spate of insolvencies in the sector's history."

It found 79% of pools in the UK could close within six months and estimated the cost of heating the pools has risen from a total of £500m a year in 2019 to £1.25 billion this year.

At Calon Tysul staff and volunteers say they are determined to keep the centre open.

Mr Adams said the community fought to have the pool when they raised cash to open it in the 1970s.

"It's the kind of place where people are going to be really keen to make sure it stays open," he said.