All the swimming pools I’ve been in since April 2015 – the Stockport, Greater Manchester edition
You didn’t think there’d just be two pieces about swimming pools did you? Really? Cos this is the third and believe me, it’s not the last.
The first covered London where we lived until March 2016, and where I sometimes stay overnight for work purposes. The second told about Tameside in Greater Manchester where we lived from March 2016. But we didn’t live there for long, and in August 2016 we moved to a house in the town of Marple, in the Borough of Stockport, in Greater Manchester.
And Stockport has some swimming pools. And I like swimming. And this is all the pools I have been to in Stockport.
Hold on to your hats everyone. It’s going to be a soggy ride.
Life Leisure Avondale
Let’s start with the basics. Stockport Council’s leisure centres are run by Stockport Sports Trust, which goes under the brand name Life Leisure. I’ll be blunt. It’s not the best of names if you ask me. On the other hand, they used to be named Target Fitness. So it’s six of one and half a dozen of the other really.
Anyway, if we go alphabetically through Stockport’s pools, we end up starting with Life Leisure Avondale. Because it starts with an A.
Built in 1977, Avondale is in an area of Stockport called Cheadle Heath. Hidden up a side road, it’s located in the same grounds as a secondary school, and strangely is not signposted at the entrance. Unlike the school.
But carry on against, perhaps, your better judgement, and you’ll find a rather nondescript and very boxy building made out of dark grey bricks. Borderline black. Perhaps this is why Avondale, from the outside, looks rather more dated than many older facilities. Dark grey bricks are a bit of a seventies thing. Used with abandon until someone realised how naff they looked, and quickly stopped.
Inside the building, it’s all rather cream coloured and a tad utilitarian. The changing rooms are best described as “plain”. Although the lockers are something special. They’re metal. Many have little stickers on them telling you the lockers can look shiny and new if kept clean and regularly wiped with a cloth and soapy water. Which will be why they look dull and dreary.
They rather look like they’ve been hanging around since the 1970s. But they are not the same as they were when first installed. No. They’ve been adapted. Once upon a time, they took coins. Can’t tell you what coins. Just coins. But the coin slot mechanism has been ripped out and a hasp and staple attached so that they now use padlocks. Avondale is the only council leisure centre I’ve ever been in that requires you to use a padlock for the locker. There are some where a padlock option is available. But Avondale’s the only one I’ve been in where it’s compulsory.
But what of the pool itself? Well the single pool it’s a pretty normal looking 25m pool with five lanes. The walls are decked it in those plain white tiles so beloved of municipal swimming pool designers. There’s door height windows dotted around on one side, although someone has had the bright idea of putting promotional banners for things like swimming lessons in front of each one, thus ensuring that next to no natural daylight gets in the place.
Oh and there’s the deep end situation.
Now there are two main kinds of swimming pool. Those with a deep end and a shallow end. And those where the pool depth stays consistent all the way along. Pretty much every private pool I’ve ever been in is in the latter category. And pretty much every council pool I’ve been in is in the former.
Avondale doesn’t break this rule. It’s got a shallow end. And it has a deep end. But it is odd because the deep end is the only deep end I know where I can stand up without problems. The deep end is a mere 1.5m deep. To put that in contrast, most pools are 2m deep. At least. Avondale’s situation is just weird. No wonder there’s a large “NO DIVING” sign – a rule strictly enforced by staff. I know as I once witnessed a child getting told off for practising the kind of simple dive you learn in swimming lessons.
All in all, you may think I’m not being massively complimentary about Avondale. And it’s true that in my forthcoming publication, “Bods’s Good Swimming Pool Guide”, Avondale only gets two out of five splashes. Fact is the whole building looks and feels dated, and rather unloved. Still, it is where you’ll find me most Monday evenings. Why? Well because it’s usually reasonably quiet, meaning I can get on with my swimming without colliding with anyone else.
Life Leisure Grand Central
If you’ve got the Life Leisure website open so you can play along at home, you’ll know that Life Leisure Cheadle comes next alphabetically. But Cheadle’s the one council pool in Stockport I’ve never been to, so let’s skip on to Grand Central instead.
Opened in 1993 and the newest pool in Stockport Council’s estate, Grand Central is the flagship of the whole operation. Which is probably why swimming here costs £4.40 – 40p more than any of the other council pools. It is also home to the Stockport Metro swimming club. A fact that you can’t miss due to the huge Stockport Metro logos throughout the building. But then if you were home to one of the top swimming clubs in Britain, you’d make a big song and dance about it too. Stockport Metro’s trained Olympic athletes. Indeed, there’s huge posters of some of the club’s medal winners on walls and windows.
Located near the town’s railway station, not far from the shopping district, the main pool area is bright and airy, with a curved roof and lots of windows to let natural light in. Grand Central boasts a splash pool with water features for the kids, two water flumes (which recently re-opened after replacement following a closure of something like two years!) and a whoppingly big 50m pool with eight lanes. One end has a movable floor so the depth can be varied depending on what’s going on.
Most of the time, a movable boom sits in the middle of the pool, splitting it into two separate 25m pools. One side is almost always reserved for use for schools, swimming lessons, and swimming clubs. That kind of thing. The other side is mostly open for public swimming. Although sometimes four lanes will be reserved for swimming lessons, or nabbed by Stockport Metro. There’s a certain irony that at 8pm on a weekday, the biggest and busiest swimming pool in the area regularly only has four lanes open to the public. There’s a good reason I stopped using Grand Central in the evening after they made that change.
But the joy of Grand Central comes at a different time. For a couple of hours a day, the whole pool is reconfigured for 50m Lane Swim sessions. The movable boom is, err, moved, and the whole glory of this pool is unveiled.
The first time I ever swam in the pool in 50m mode was exhausting. Thing is, when you get swim lengths, you get a little rest when you get to the end and turn round. Even if you’re fast at turning round, there’s still a few seconds when you aren’t doing much. A micro-rest as it were. But when you’re doing a swim in a 50m pool, you get half the rests! That’s one of the reasons why I always feel like I’ve had more of a workout when I do the 50m lane swim.
If Grand Central has any flaws, besides its lack of lanes in an evening, it’s the shower situation. There’s just three private shower cubicles, situated to the side of the mixed-sex changing village. It’s a thoroughly inadequate number for such a large pool. At busy times, there are queues. There are some open showers, down at the end of the pool usually used for schools/clubs/lessons etc. But really, only having three private showers is terrible. Especially for a pool that’s just over 25 years old.
Life Leisure Hazel Grove
If you’d asked me the first time I went there, I would have said Life Leisure Hazel Grove was pretty new. Built in the last 15 years or so. Everything looks pretty new. Pretty sparkly. The exterior is mostly light brown brick, but with part of the first floor clad in that metal cladding so beloved by designers of out of modern town shopping centres.
The pool area’s tastefully decorated, with geometric patterns made out of square tiles of white, blue and turquoise. The changing rooms are modern, and every toilet cubicle is designed for use by disabled people. Every single one. It’s also the only pool in the area where most (but not all) of the lockers take the new pound coin. I know. It’s bonkers, but in the other facilities you need an old pound coin or a trolley token. I have about four. Just in case.
But something didn’t sit right with this brand new pool narrative. And that was the pool itself. It’s a nice pool. Six lanes, 25m long. But unlike everything else, it didn’t look like it had been built in the last 15 years.
See, in modern pools the water level is flush with the floor that runs around the pool. Most pools, probably since the late eighties, have been built that way. With older pools though, there’s a gap. The water level is about 15-20cm below the level of the floor. Hazel Grove has that gap. If it was modern and new, the gap wouldn’t be there. No, something didn’t sit right.
It was only when researching this piece that I found out that Hazel Grove is actually the second oldest pool in the area. It was actually built in 1970. Most of the building dates from that point, with the metal cladding added in 2014 when the site was extended and comprehensively refurbished.
It does go to show the power of a good refurbishment. There are certainly other facilities in the area that really could do with that kind of treatment…
Life Leisure Marple
The history is quite interesting. It was donated to the area by Mrs Mary Macnair, in memory of her husband Andrew Macnair, who died in 1922. It was donated for use by the public at a time when there were few such facilities in towns.
It was as it is now: a rather simple building, housing a 4 lane 25 yard (22.86m) pool. Changing cubicles were placed on the pool side, although a later extension saw dedicated changing rooms added, and a small gym installed on the upper floor.
The pool hall was also dual purpose. In winter, and for other special occasions, the pool was boarded over and a sprung dance floor installed. A raised stage area gave somewhere for the bands to perform; a feature that remains in the pool hall to this day. And a feature that confused me when I started going there as I couldn’t work out what it was for.
With a prominent location on the town’s high street, Marple was always going to be a popular pool with the locals, even if it was definitely on the small side. But in recent years it was not looking at its best. Large areas of white paint had peeled off in the pool hall, revealing brown tiles underneath. Not a massive job to redecorate. But it took years before anyone did.
And then there was the changing room situation. Now I can only talk – obviously – about the gents. But the paint work was – for a long time – similarly bad. And there’s definitely a clash of colours.
Let me welcome you in. You enter at one end. There’s a modern turquoise changing cubicle with baby change table immediately opposite the entrance. You go in and to the right are benches along the wall. A yellow hosepipe reel is attached to the wall too.
On the left the benches are beige. On the right the benches are black with red tops. Down the end is a shower area. It’s decked out in the same turquoise as the cubicle. Then there’s some green and peach tiles. The walls are painted white with a wide bright red stripe. There’s some old wooden cubicles to the side painted red. The floor is a utilitarian beige tile. There’s a complete lack of coordination in the decor.
To the left are the lockers, crammed in to two small side rooms, and many with broken locks, or without keys. Classy. Further down there’s a toilet area with a sink where one of the taps broke years ago and was never replaced. These are top notch facilities. Apparently the changing rooms were refurbished in 2009. I dread to think what they looked like before the refurbishment.
But Marple pool has a bigger problem than bad decor and a distinct lack of investment. And that’s that it has been closed for over a year.
This is a big problem. Not least because I live five minutes walk from the place and now have to travel a lot to go swimming. It may have been tatty and on the small side, but boy was it convenient.
It closed abruptly in March 2018 due to equipment failure. The pool filtration system is buggered up so badly that it’s dangerous. It’s not the only problem. A number of times, water dripped on me from the roof. Indeed the council have established they’d need to spend £2.7m sorting out the pool fabric, the filtration system, the building itself, and its mechanical and electrical systems. Even more would be needed to tart the place up again.
£2.7m for a facility that was running at capacity, and that doesn’t have the space to be modernised and upgraded to offer the kinds of facilities people now expect.
So rather than spend the cash, the whole thing is under review. All options are being considered, including the possibility of a brand new facility. Which would cost even more money. Chances are it will take years to sort out.
Incidentally, in the entrance was is a round plaque installed by Sport England in 2012. It commemorates Paralympic swimmer Matt Walker who won bronze in the London games. And his early swimming was done in Marple pool. And it is there because it was at Marple that Matt started swimming, aged four years old. In a building donated to the community by a loving widow, many decades earlier.
Life Leisure Romiley
There’s got to be a plaque somewhere. The plaque that celebrates the year the building opened, and who cut the ribbon. It’s compulsory.
The plaque’s usually somewhere near the entrance. Tucked away. Easy to ignore. Don’t ask me why. It just is. Perhaps the dignitaries couldn’t be bothered moving too far into the building or something.
This is not the case at Romiley Swimming Pool. No, at Romiley, the plaque is at the pool side, in proud display. And seeing as it was going to be so prominent, the good burghers of the Bredbury and Romiley Urban District Council made sure all their names were on it. Well, they were proud of what they’d built. Why not shout about it?
It’s not the only plaque by the side of Romiley swimming pool. There’s another celebrating the installation of a pool lift for “the disabled”, complete with all the people and businesses who helped fund it. Whether the original pool lift is still in operation, I can’t tell you.
The Bredbury and Romiley Urban District Council hasn’t existed since 31 March 1974. Romiley pool opened its doors in 1973, meaning the build of the pool must have one of the council’s last big acts.
And here’s a useless fact for you. Urban District Councils were originally Urban District Sanitary Authorities. They were originally created to provide sewers, clean drinking water, to sweep the streets… Things like that. I find this rather a rather intriguing insight into how local government started in the UK.
Romiley swimming pool is four years older than me. And probably looks in better condition. The pool hall contains a five lane 25m pool, and a small teaching pool as well. The walls are a light brown brick, with tall windows that make the pool look bright and airy. It’s a nice place to swim. Even if the windows do have a metal coverings on them, presumably to protect them from the vandals. You’ll find me there most mornings, in the fast lane. Not because I’m a particularly fast swimmer. It’s just that most of Romiley’s patrons are rather slow.
So far so good. But oh the changing rooms… Oh dear.
Apparently they were refurbished in 2009. I’m not sure what this involved, but suspect it mostly involved throwing white paint everywhere. Oh and buying some black and red shower curtains.
It’s quite clear that the cubicles – the ones in the gents anyway – were the same ones that were installed in the 1970s. Whether they had doors or not then, I don’t know. But they don’t now. They have shower curtains. Well, apart from one cubicle that actually has a door! I know. Crazy.
They probably have always had curtains on the cubicles. We have a children’s book by Sarah Garland called Going Swimming, that was published in the 1980s. In it the protagonist goes swimming with her daughter and son. They get changed in cubicles with curtains. But they’re not black curtains. Nor are they red ones. They’re a kind of pastel colour.
Maybe in the 1980s you could get away with putting shower curtains up in front of your cubicles. But things have moved on a bit since then. We are, perhaps, used to just a bit higher standards of quality now. But if they really had to use shower curtains, did they really have to use black ones or red ones? Have you ever stood in a small cubicle with a bright red shower curtain? I have. It’s not great.
And on that bombshell, it just remains for me to say one thing… No, it’s not over yet. There’s one more confounded post on swimming pools still to come.