All the Swimming Pools – Life Leisure Cheadle
Some time ago I had the idea to review all the swimming pools I’d been to since April 2015. It was an epic undertaking to review 21 swimming pools. Then it was completed. And I thought nothing more of it. Until that day recently when I went to a pool I had never been to before. And, well, that meant I had to review it…
Stockport Council’s leisure facilities are operated by a charity called Life Leisure. They are based locally and their Sunday name is Stockport Sports Trust. And given how few centres they have, they have one of the most complicated and confusing membership schemes around.
When I joined, I took out a Flexi-Swim membership. This was the cheapest option that got me access to three of the borough’s six pools. Two of the pools – Marple and Avondale – were not exactly the best equipped, nor had the best facilities. The third, Grand Central, was the flagship. A large 50m long pool so well equipped, they charge you an extra 40p to get in there for a swim. There are water slides. To go on them the casual visitor needed an extra £1. But the cheapest membership package covered them. Recently they added access to its new, rather nice thermal suite. That’s something like a tenner a go. All included in the basic, el-cheapo package.
But for some reason, the membership package didn’t get me access to the three other pools in the borough. The ones that don’t have water slides. One of them doesn’t even have a sauna or steam room. One of those that does, has it in a seperate building so to use it after a swim, you have to get out, get dressed, leave by the exit, walk down the car park, go back inside, get undressed, then find the sauna. For this reason I have never used it.
For whatever reason, if you wanted to use those three pools, you had to pay extra fiver a month.
That was fine because I wasn’t fussed. Marple was right near my house, and the other two were accessible for other visits.
Then Marple pool closed due to structural issues. In compensation people like me whose home club was Marple and who were on the el-cheapo package, were given access to two of the three other pools as compensation. Bargain!
What I didn’t get access to was Life Leisure Cheadle. But that was okay because that was the furthest of the borough’s pools from my house. It’s about half an hour to get there by car. It didn’t make much sense to go there.
Then Covid-19 happened. The leisure centres were forced to close.
Eventually they re-opened. And there was much rejoicing. But suddenly my membership package lost another pool. The layout of Avondale’s rather naff changing rooms did not lend themselves to social distancing. A plan had already been announced to completely modernise them. So the powers that be shuttered the pool until either social distancing was no longer required, or the refurbishment was completed.
That left the borough with four pools.
(You may think at this point that they’d get rid of the el-cheapo membership package, but no, new members can still get it – but for them it now only covers swimming at Grand Central. The one with the water slides. But the thermal suite’s closed. I still don’t understand the logic. Anyway…)
Now I have to this day never had any form of confirmation about how two pool closures officially impacts my membership package. But they did tell me I needed to book my swims online from now on. Covid-19 world doesn’t allow you just to turn up any more. And whilst browsing the website to do that, I noticed I could book swims as part of my membership package at the one pool I’d never had access to before. (And, for some reason, the Life Leisure pool in Barrow, Cumbria. Also I could book gym sessions for no extra payment as well. To be honest I think someone’s made a mistake somewhere, but as I have no intention of going to the gym, or travelling for several hours to go for a swim in Barrow, I’ve not mentioned it.)
And so it was, on a rather wet and dreary Monday evening, I found myself queueing up outside of a swimming pool I had never visited before. Queueing is that other new feature of a Covid-19 swimming. Naturally you had to do it outside in the rain.
Now apparently Cheadle Pool was built in 1973. But the building has been extended and refurbished a couple of times years since. The outside is mostly sand-coloured brick, but more recent additions feature lots of glass and grey metal.
Inside everything looks rather swish. It probably has to. At the other side of the car park is a hotel with its own 25m swimming pool and gym. Competition makes you up your game.
The changing rooms are bright and modern. Presumably built with single sex facilities, everything’s been knocked through to make a large unisex changing village, complete with wood effect lockers and cubicles. It all feels rather nice, and is definitely the nicest of all of Stockport’s pool changing rooms. It feels classy. Feels like it’s a quality establishment. At least until you come to the lockers and find that half of them still require you to have an old pound coin. Still, at least half allow you to actually use a new pound coin, which is more than most of Stockport’s leisure centres do.
From the changing rooms, you can walk swiftly to the pool.
Ah, the pool. This is something special too. For some reason the good burghers of Cheadle and Gatley Urban District Council (who I presume commissioned the building a few years before they were replaced by Stockport Council) opted to build a six lane pool, 33.3m long. Not your usual 25m. Certainly not the Olympic length of 50m. But 33.3m. It took me ages to realise why you would pick this strange number. Swim three lengths and you’ve done 100m. Well, okay, 99.9m. How this is better than swimming four lengths of 25m and getting 100m exactly, is not entirely clear to me. Perhaps in Cheadle they just had to be different. Although apparently a bigger pool is also good for water polo. The 12x10m small pool that sits next to it, is a bit less controversial.
The pool area is beautifully decorated. Large glass windows provide illumination during the day (I presume – it was pitch black when I was there). Rich blue tiles fill the walls, along with subtle coloured glass panels, give it a stylish effect. It (presumably) wasn’t extremely expensive. There’s no fiddly mosaic tiles that you’ll often find in more expensive private gyms. But the money spent was put to good effect. Other than a bit of marking on the pool tiles, no aspect of the pool and its facilities makes it look like it was first opened nearly forty years ago. The only hint of its age is that the pool’s water level is not flush with the side of the pool like a more recent facility would be. And that’s about it.
If there can be a failing of the centre, and there has to be one, it’s that it doesn’t have anywhere near enough shower cubicles. Nor are they easily locatable. They are dotted all over the changing rooms, and each was full when I tried to get clean. I ended up hanging around for ages looking in multiple directions before I finally managed to bag one that also seemed to double up as a disabled changing room. This seemed a major flaw.
All in all though, Cheadle Pool’s a lovely place. Am I a fan? Yes. Would I go as far as to say it’s the nicest council owned pool in Stockport? Without a doubt. Now if only it was just a bit closer to my home…