All The Swimming Pools REVIEWED! – Tameside Wellness Centre
I learned to swim in Denton swimming pool. A long, rather squat building, it opened in 1975. It would have been about five years old when its teachers stood on the side of the small pool and tried to get me to swim.
From reception you’d turn left to towards the changing areas, all decked out in everywhere decked out in bright, glossy white tiles that shone. Head left again for the gents, right for the ladies. Pick up an empty metal cage, get undressed, fill the cage with your belongings and pass it to the attendant. The cages then got hoisted on rails in an area between the two changing facilities. In return, they’d pass you a coloured wrist band with a number on it. Then it was talk to walk down to the pool, down a corridor of more gleaming tiles. Then into the pool hall.
And what a pool hall. Giant glass picture windows looked out onto the park behind the pool. And for a young Andrew, it was a walk down to the small pool, on the other side of another set of glass windows.
As children we went there a lot. For a time my sister and myself attended the Friday night sessions of the Onward Dolphins Amateur Swimming Club. In the summer holidays we’d go swimming with my grandad who lived nearby. And so it continued until I reached the age when other activities began to become more interesting.
In my mind Denton pool though was still gleaming and shiny. Was it ever such, I don’t know. But when I went back in 2015 after moving back to Manchester, I couldn’t get over how shabby it looked.
The giant picture windows in the pool hall had been mostly bricked up. Even when I was young there were problems with “yobs” who delighted in smashing them. The attendant had gone from the changing area, replaced by a shabby set of second hand lockers. Where once the changing area had been partitioned by tiled walls, now stood scruffy partitions made out of metal poles and blue plastic. Everything felt old, dirty, grimy.
Was it ever as gleaming and shiny as it was in my mind? I don’t know. But it had gone a long way.
It needed a lot of love, care and attention. But the council had other plans. Denton Pool, it declared, was life expired. It would build a new one. It would build a new one. Bigger, better. With a gym. And other attractions. A modern facility that would be the jewel in its leisure service. And have a bigger car park.
Active Denton – as it was by then known – closed on 28 Feb 2020. A few days later Tameside Wellness Centre opened its doors to the public, ahead of schedule. And then a couple of weeks later, closed its doors again due to the Covid-19 lockdown.
By the time I visited it, eighteen months had passed since it had first flung open its doors. It still looked shiny and new. But the first thing that stood out was the space. There was so much of it. The reception area looked absolutely huge. Which it needed to be. As well as housing two swimming pools, Tameside Wellness Centre includes a sizeable gym, studios, a soft play centre, bowling alley, a creche, bookable meeting rooms, a community room, and a cafe. Oh and a rooftop garden, sometimes used for classes. This is one serious leisure centre.
Yet the reception area doesn’t feel like a processing zone. It’s a place that’s warm and welcoming. It felt like an area designed for people to meet, socialise.
It took me a while to work out what it reminded me of. Eventually I got it. This was like a large private gym. The more expensive gyms almost always have a lounge area to relax in, with tables and comfortable seating.
Most council leisure centres, if they have a seating area at all, simply fill them with small tables, vending machines and hash plastic seats. Not here. Tameside Wellness Centre – or TWC as we’ll call it for now – offered large sofas, bookshelves with children’s books, and space. So much space. Forty or so people were milling around waiting for the swimming session to start, yet the area absorbed it all with ease.
Like them I milled around, looking through the windows at the pool hall. Like the old Denton Pool, windows were everywhere. Presumably, unlike the old pool, the glass was more resistant to bricks being flung at it.
I was a little early for the 8pm lane swim session, but as the clock ticked on, I headed to the mixed gender changing village. A long space, changing cubicles filled the right hand side, lockers next to them, and showers on the left. The walls were mostly a neutral beige, but the whole area radiated colour thanks to the oranges and lime greens used for the lockers and cubicle doors. It simply burst with colour, making the place feel vibrant and fun. How it may look in 20 years time, remains to be seen. But right now it looks brilliant.
At the far end, extraordinarily large toilet areas – separate ones for ladies and gents. And dotted around accessible changing facilities too.
At long last it was time to enter the pool hall, and once again the element of space shone out. It was like the whole building had been designed to show off how much land they’d managed to get hold of. Everything felt big. Everything felt roomy.
There’s too pools. A 17m ‘learner’ pool that appeared to have a movable floor. Then there was the eight lane 25m long main pool. For the lane swim session it had been divided into four wide lanes – one slow, two medium and a fast one. Again it felt big, and the lanes felt very wide. Wider than normal, somehow. I regularly swim at Life Leisure Grand Central in Stockport which is also an eight lane pool. I checked when I got home. Grand Central is 2m wider than the pool at TWC. Yet when they configure Grand Central to have double lanes, the lanes feel narrower. I can’t explain it. It’s odd. But at TWC every time I reached the end of a length, I had to pause and spend a few seconds moving to the other side of the lane in order to set off again. That never normally happens. I normally get to the end and bounce off again. Those lanes felt so wide.
In a rest between lengths I took in the surroundings. Bright, airy. The pool had a set of proper steps and a poolpod lift for those needing more help to get in. There were also some unusual markings on the floor that I later learned were for underwater hockey. I also began to appraise the pool with a more critical eye. Like reception, the pool hall oozed the feeling of space. It felt incredibly big. Far bigger than it actually was. I began to notice that the walkways around the pool weren’t that wide. The ceiling not that high. High yes, but hugely high.
But whatever the architects had done, they’d done an amazing job of making it feel far bigger than it actually was. This isn’t to say TWC is small. Definitely not. It’s a huge pool and this is a large leisure centre. But it felt like it had been designed to feel even bigger. The whole building is one of six up for the award of Greater Manchester Building of the Year for 2020. The winner was to be announced in late October 2021, although who won, I’ve been unable to find out. Anyway…
Back home, 110 lengths later, I started looking at the pool timetables. Wondering if I should start visiting TWC more often. It had only been a 20 minute drive from house – about the same distance as some other pools I visit. It would cost me extra. I’m a member of Life Leisure in Stockport, and so get unlimited access to their facilities. A swim here and there at one of Tameside’s pools would cost me an extra £4 a swim. Not huge, but why pay to get in somewhere when you can get in another facility for free?
On the other hand, Tameside Wellness Centre is one hell of a facility. It had impressed me a lot. And I rather wanted to go back. It had set a benchmark in leisure centres. Surely all new build facilities should be this good?