All The Swimming Pools REVIEWED! – the new Active Hyde
On 4 May 1889 a new public baths complex opened in my home town of Hyde, on the east of Greater Manchester.
You won’t find it there now. It closed around 1984, aged 95 years old, and swiftly razed to the ground. It’s location in the heart of Hyde town centre, right next to the public library, meant it was prime real estate. Which is why the council demolished it and turned the place into a car park.
It remains a car park to this day, and looking at it, it’s hard to imagine how the site once housed a men’s pool, a smaller ladies pool, thirty-eight changing cubicles, and a gallery capable of holding several hundred spectators. Oh and because this was an era before people had indoor plumbing, there was also a laundry and six slipper baths. Around 1914 they also added a “Russian baths” containing a steam room. My extensive research has failed to reveal how big the pools were, but even so, the car park just doesn’t look big enough to have held it all, and presumably it went further back than the site does now.
I would have been six or seven when Hyde’s pool closed its doors. I do have memories of visiting it once, changing in the cubicles standing on the balcony. Although most of my early years swimming was done a few miles away in the far more modern 1970s era pool at Denton where, for many years, I had my swimming lessons.
In 1987 Hyde got its replacement pool. Built in a residential area a short way from the town centre, it was a very different beast. The original pool had housed a Water Polo team that played at an internal level. The new pool got a wave machine, water jets, a jacuzzi area, and a big water slide. Hyde Leisure Pool opened its doors with eyes firmly on the leisure market, with more serious swimmers directed to the borough’s five other pools. If you wanted to swim lengths, you could no longer do them in Hyde.
Skip forward to 2015 and Tameside Council began an evaluation of its leisure facilities. Three of its swimming pools, it decided, were life expired. All three would close, replaced by a brand new “Wellness Centre” and the addition of an extension with a new “proper” pool at Hyde. On 2 March 2020 the new Tameside Wellness Centre in Denton threw open its doors. And then promptly closed them a few weeks later due to the Covid-19 lockdown.
Despite being a simpler project, the extension at Hyde was marred with problems. The council had a deal with Carillion, an engineering company collapsed in spectacular style. Budgets had to increase. Two contractors withdrew from the process at the last minute. All of which meant it wasn’t until July 2021 that Hyde’s new pool opened its doors. And a week after it opened, I went to check it out.
The new pool extension sits at the back of the car park on an area previously consisting of unused grassland. I call it an extension – conceptionally it’s a whole new building placed at the back of the existing leisure pool with a small “link tunnel” with the old building. This probably explains the architectural decision to build the new building to be a completely different design and style to its older neighbour. The original leisure pool is double story octagonal and built of red brick. The new pool hall is single story, brown brick and a simple rectangle with a sloped roof. On the plans it no doubt works. But physically it depends where you view it from. Pick the right angle and it looks like what they presumably intended – two different buildings close to each other. Pick the wrong one and it looks like they’ve clumsily designed an extension having never seen the original building. For my money, something more sympathetic to the original building would have been a far better choice. But then I’m not an architect so what do I know?
Enough with the external architectural critique! What’s it like inside? The entrance to the new pool is via the reception in the original leisure pool building. During weekends and hot days the leisure pool can be incredibly busy, with big queues, which lead me to wonder how the reception area would cope with the addition even more customers. Perhaps they’re assuming many of the pool’s customers will be members who can just swipe a membership card. My visit was a Monday evening, with the slides empty and the wave machine non-active. And there was still a big queue to get in.
From reception I followed the stream of people who mostly seemed to know where they were going despite the new pool having only been open for a week. That was through the cafe, and towards the leisure pool’s changing village. But at the last minute a new corridor heads off in a different direction and takes you to the new large, well planned out changing village. Cubicles line the right side of the area, banks and banks of lockers to the left. There’s loads of space – designed no doubt with use as an overflow for the leisure pool as well – and ample lockers. Everything’s incredibly well signposted, with each cubicle clearly stating its designed occupancy. Mostly smaller ones, but also larger family sized ones and facilities for disabled users and others who need more space. By all accounts there’s also a Changing Places room as well. Everything’s unisex, even the toilets, which consist of individual cubicles. In contrast to the leisure pool’s bright blue cubicles and lockers, the extension is designed with black and light wood effects.
All so good, time to go to the pool. Here the layout is a little curious as the lockers are the furthest point away from the water. Leave the cubicle, go away from the pool, put your stuff away, walk past your locker into the pool. This is probably the most effective use of space but doesn’t feel like it provides an optimal flow of people through the changing area. Although for those using the new changing village as an overflow for the leisure pool, then it makes a bit more sense.
When we finally find the pool itself, it’s a six lane one, 25m long. There’s no small pool, even though there would have been plenty of room to build one. Perhaps having the leisure pool in the same building, they felt like it wasn’t particularly necessary. But it could have been a useful addition.
Anyway, the main pool is pretty good size, although not big enough to cope with the demands on my visit. Was it because the place was new and everyone was checking it out? Was it because there not enough swimming sessions in the borough on a Monday evening? Was it because recent Olympic success was inspiring everyone to head to the pool? Or something else? Either way, the pool was absolutely rammed; the busiest I’ve seen a swimming pool since Covid-19 arrived on the scene. Due to Covid-19 everyone there had had to book, meaning capacity was limited. But obviously not by much. I swim regularly at another six lane pool operated by Life Leisure and there the capacity is currently 30 – only recently increased from 24. There were easily over forty people in Hyde pool that night.
This was a lane swim session and the pool had been split into three wide lanes. Markers on the two side lanes asked users to swim clockwise, but there was nothing in the middle lane. And there was no indication of speed for each of the lanes, which seemed a major omission. The left lane was clearly full of slow swimmers, but the other two were a mystery. The middle seemed to be running quite quickly, and being a reasonably fast swimmer I went in there, only to find after a few lengths it had slowed down and the right hand lane was going faster, and ended up moving. I wasn’t the only one. For at least the first ten minutes of the session there was much movement between the two lanes. I can only hope they’ve got some signs on order with FAST, SLOW and MEDIUM on them. Although given the speed of the swimmers, personally I think they could do with a fourth lane marked “VERY FAST” as well.
Organisational idiosyncrasies aside, the pool itself is sleek and modern, tiled in white. There’s steps down into the pool, as well as a pool lift for users who need it. On the left side of the hall, large windows bring light in and provide a view. A view of the car park, but at least there’s natural light. There’s also a small spectator gallery underneath the windows. The other side of the pool has a rather cream wall, the lower part decked out in greyish tiles. Indeed there’s a minimalist grey feel about the whole place and I confess I felt like it would be nice to have a bit more colour.
Swim done, I adjourned to the showers – there’s open ones, and shower cubicles at the end of each bank of changing cubicles. Then it was time to leave, and headed to a door with a big EXIT sign over it that was locked, with staff telling me I couldn’t get out that way. Your guess is as good as mine on that one. Instead I was directed back through the cafe and out – eventually – into the open air. And that, my visit was done.
Impressions? Most of my quibbles relate mainly to simple organisational things. If you have a Lane Swim session, have speeds on your lanes. If a door isn’t an exit, don’t have a sign above it saying Exit. Oh and maybe they need to add on some more public swimming sessions. But these could all be simple teething problems, easily solved in time.
Will I be back? Probably. My visit was prompted less by interest in a new facility and more by the fact that the pool I normally go to on a Monday evening was closed due to some moron throwing a brick through the window and they’d had to empty the pool to ensure there was no shards of glass in it. Hyde was about the only pool I could book a space in at the last minute. But it is a lovely pool, and – whilst I don’t live in Hyde (or indeed Tameside) it’s not a bad drive from my house. I may just be back every now and then to keep an eye how it’s going.