Kirkham swimming pool users demand it is repaired and reopened, telling politicians: ‘It belongs to us’
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That was the message delivered by around 150 residents who attended a meeting called in the wake of the announcement earlier this month that the historic facility had closed for good.
The 109-year-old building, on Station Road, has been shut since its roof partially blew off during a storm in December 2021.
Regular users have since been waiting patiently for their beloved baths to welcome them back through the doors – but were left bereft when it emerged that additional works would be required, beyond the roof repair, which has put the cost out of reach for its charity operators, YMCA Fylde Coast.
The organisation took over the running of the pool from Fylde Council when it was previously threatened with closure back in 2009. The building itself was transferred to the charity two years later, but with the council continuing to subsidise leisure provision from the site, now known as YMCA Kirkham Ryral Splash.
Nick White, chair of Kirkham and Wesham Swimming Club, accepts that the YMCA cannot afford the repair bill – which is likely to exceed a million pounds. However, he claims that poor upkeep of the building in the past is at the root of its now seemingly permanent closure – and for that, he blames the borough authority.
“The council knew…years ago [about] the boilers, the roof, the electrics, [but] they just allowed the pool to carry like it did. They have spent money on it in some ways, but unfortunately if you don’t spend a lot on it, eventually something will give – and that’s what’s happened,” Nick said.
Speaking just before the meeting – convened by Kirkham Town Council – he also told the Local Democracy Reporting Service (LDRS) that the baths occupied a place at the heart of the Kirkham and Wesham community, bringing benefits to young and old alike.
“Drownings are going up with children and we need to teach kids water safety. The nearest pools now [are in] Garstang, Preston or Blackpool – so how are young people going to learn to swim in this area?
“They also go on about mental health issues and diabetes – that’s what the swimming pool is [there to do something] about.
“There are a lot of old people [who] have come to…this meeting, because [the pool is] part of their life. When lockdown happened and then we reopened, they went back swimming to be with their friends.”
Fylde Council says that it has offered to work with the YMCA to secure the funding needed for an alternative site which could be used to bring public swimming back to the town.
Meanwhile, outside the mothballed baths, friends Sandra Lowe and Margaret Hurley bemoaned the loss of a facility where they had both learned to swim as youngsters.
Sandra alighted upon the fact that the pool had been bequeathed to the town in 1914 by local magistrate William Hodgson – his generosity still remembered today in a plaque on the front of the Edwardian building.
“It’s the people of Kirham who own it, so it’s naughty for anyone to close it,” she said.
“And they’re spending all this money on these stupid road repairs in the town centre [the £13m Kirkham Futures Project] and yet you can’t get somewhere like this pool reopened..
“All the schools went swimming there, too – there were always coaches outside.”
Margaret recalled how she spent her summer holidays at the baths as a child – on a season ticket bought for her by her Grandad – and said that there would be nothing else for children in the area if the baths closed down.
“There are no other sports facilities in Kirkham. The YMCA can’t pay to get it fixed, but the councils could – we pay them enough council tax,” she added.
After the three-hour meeting was over, Nick said that the future of the near 80-year-old swimming club he chairs, which is currently operating from the pool is St. Annes, was dependent on the Kirkham facility being reopened – and insisted that he was not willing to waste the effort that had gone into building up the membership to its current 78 from a recent nadir of just six.
“If it comes to it, the people of Kirkham will get [the pool] up and running again,” he pledged.
‘WE NEED TO KNOW WHAT THE WHOLE TOWN THINKS’
Kirkham mayor Chris Hopkinson, who convened and chaired Wednesday evening’s meeting about the future of the baths, said that there was clearly a strength of feeling that they should be reopened – at least amongst a section of the community. However, he told the LDRS that it was important to determine if that opinion was reflected across the town as a whole.
“There’s a Facebook petition, which I think well over 2,000 people have signed – and we probably had about 150 people turn up [to the meeting]. But within Kirkman and Wesham, there’s about 20,000 potential users of that pool – and we have to really understand [whether] the views of those people [at the meeting] are representative of all the people of Kirkham and Wesham.
“Ultimately, we’ve got the preference of the people that were there and who seem wedded to that building. But having spoken to other people around the town, it’s more…the facility than the building [that they are concerned about].
“I think people see repairing and reinstating that building as a quick fix. And it potentially will be [quicker] than finding a new site and funding and then building a new facility.
“But you’re going to have to spend [up to] £1.5m to bring it back into use – and that might only give it a lifespan of five to seven years. Is that the right use of what ultimately will be public funds?” Cllr Hopkinson asked.
However, he acknowledged that the “lovely building” and was “very dear to people’s hearts” – and stressed that if it was shown that the town wanted to see it reopened, he and the town council would swing in behind them.
Being an apolitical figure, his only appeal was for “politics” to be kept out of the debate.
“As the town council, we are here to serve the public. And at the end of the day, everybody – the YMCA, Fylde Council, Kirkham Town Council – all want a fit-for-purpose swimming facility for everybody. It’s [a question of] how do we best get to that?”
WHAT HAVE THE POOL’S MAIN PLAYERS SAID?
YMCA Fylde Coast and Fylde Council both said that, following the public meeting and the comments of the contributors to this report – put to them by the LDRS – they had nothing further to add to the statements they issued when the closure announcement was made on 10th August.
At the time, Graham Oatridge, CEO of YMCA Fylde Coast said: ‘We are hugely disappointed not to be able to go ahead with re-opening the baths as was originally planned.
“We have been working with architects and engineers to create a scheme of works to reinstate the facility. Unfortunately, the ageing plant and building systems mean that additional investment of hundreds of thousands of pounds are required and, as a charity, YMCA simply does not have the funds to make that investment.
“The revenue costs of running swimming pools have risen exponentially on the back of the energy crisis and despite the willingness of YMCA and its partners to see the building reopen that is just not possible. We know this news will be incredibly disappointing for everyone that loved the facility.
“However, conversations have already started and YMCA will be working with Fylde Council, Kirkham Town Council and other willing stakeholders to explore all options for bringing a modern, fit for purpose leisure facility for Kirkham and rural Fylde.”
Cllr Karen Buckley, Leader of Fylde Council, added: “We regret the YMCA’s decision to close and are disappointed that this will remove the provision of public swimming in and around Kirkham. We also appreciate how difficult it must have been to make this decision by the YMCA who own and operate the facility. Nevertheless, the closure will be a real blow for residents of Kirkham and the surrounding villages.
“We understand there is a demand for a public facility to cater for rural Fylde residents and have heard directly from schools that are struggling to justify the time out of the classroom to transport children further away to pools in St Annes, Garstang or Poulton to fulfil the requirements for teaching children to swim.”
“We offer to work with the YMCA to seek funding for an alternative site to bring back public swimming to rural Fylde so children can learn to swim locally and adults, as well as children, can enjoy the physical and mental health benefits that swimming brings.”
Cllr Jayne Nixon, lead member for tourism, leisure and culture, said: “The closure of the YMCA Kirkham facility is undeniably a significant setback for our community, especially for families and children who cherished having a convenient local swimming pool in Kirkham. The YMCA have explored and exhausted all opportunities to reopen the site, however the cost of the immediate and futureproof reparative works makes the site economically unviable.”
“Looking ahead, our determination to address this issue remains resolute. While acknowledging the challenges, we are fully invested in collaborating with the YMCA and Kirkham Town Council and, we will pursue all available funding to seek to return swimming provision to the Kirkham area.”
WHERE TO SWIM NOW?
Many of the swimming lessons run from the YMCA Kirkham site have been relocated to other local pools, while members have also been able to make use of the charity’s other facilities in Lytham, St Annes and Poulton. Schools using the facility have all been offered alternative swimming lesson availability at other YMCA sites. YMCA members with any enquiries should contact [email protected] or visit www.ymcayactive.org.