All the Swimming Pools REVIEWED! Life Leisure Romiley (revisited)

Published on 19 December 2022 in , , , ,

The exterior building of Life Leisure Romiley
Life Leisure Romiley in, err, Romiley.

For many years I was a member of Virgin Active’s branch at Merton Abbey.  It was five minutes from my house and I joined it not long after it opened in 2005, only leaving when I moved north in 2016.  

Some years into my membership, I began to notice the changing facilities area was beginning to get rather manky.  Mostly in the shower area.  The cubicle dividers were increasingly covered with black gunk.  The shower pipes were encrusted with limescale.  I was paying £52 a month and thought really it should be better.  Especially as I went to a couple of other branches regularly and their showers were all in far better condition.  

There was a comment box for members to give their feedback.  So I did.  About two years later, the shower area got refurbished and made nice again.

I thought of this every now and then when – in April 2018 – I first visited the council owned Life Leisure Romiley, a few miles from my new abode in the north west of England.  I thought of it because if I’d thought the changing rooms in Merton Abbey had been bad, I really hadn’t seen anything.

I wrote about it a few years ago. What follows updates that original review, but you can also go back in time to see what I wrote in 2019.

Apparently Romiley’s changing rooms were refurbished in 2009. I’m not sure what this involved, but suspect it mostly involved throwing white paint everywhere. And buying some black and red shower curtains.

It was 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 didn’t in 2018. They had shower curtains. Either a black shower curtain or a red one.  All that kept anyone from seeing your naked body was a flimsy bit of cloth that wafted around in the breeze.

This wasn’t particularly great.  But the changing rooms were single-sex.  With mixed-sex facilities you expect a certain level of privacy but with single-sex facilities, you can get away with less.  Also there was no comment box to submit my views into, so I never did.

And then Covid-19 appeared in 2020.  Like all leisure centres, Romiley closed its doors, and didn’t re-open until late August.  And when they did, everything had changed.  In order to allow for social distancing, it was decided to change the way Romiley operated.  Customers were informed they needed to come to the centre ‘beach ready’, the changing rooms were made mixed-sex, and a massive one way system was introduced.

Before entering the pool, patrons would need to get undressed in the former ladies changing rooms.  Then they’d need to take all their belongings poolside, leaving them on one of a series of chairs dotted around the pool hall.  After swimming they’d pick up their belongings, walk round the pool to the former gents changing rooms, and get changed.

The topic of who had had the better changing rooms pre-Covid was of much debate by the patrons.  But I kept thinking back to those shower curtains on the cubicles, and the limited privacy they offered.  And how they were even worse now that there were both men and women sharing the same space.

Thankfully it wasn’t to last forever.  Just before Covid hit, the council had announced a major refurbishment programme.  The building would be completely re-configured.  There would be a new single entrance to replace the previous separate entrances for the gym and the pool.  And the pool changing rooms would be completely replaced by a new mixed-sex changing village.  

And after many months where changing was done in some cold portacabins, the new facilities opened in October 2021.  And what a difference.  

Filling the space previously occupied by the pool reception and the ladies changing room, now sits two long rows of modern lockers and cubicles.  Cubicles with – gasp – proper lockable doors.  There’s a bank of free hair driers on one of them, if – unlike me – you have enough hair to justify it.  

Beyond all that is the entrance to the pool, single sex toilets, and a bank of eight shower cubicles.  And in some sort of massive leisure centre innovation, the showers have a knob you can turn to adjust the temperature of the water.  I am not kidding.  Not since I last visited Virgin Active Merton Abbey have I used to a leisure centre shower that allows you to control the temperature of the water.  It’s always pot luck.  Press a button, leap out of the way of scolding water, that kind of thing.  But not at Romiley.  You can set the temperature and away you go.  Marvellous.

That’s not all the innovation.  There’s also a swimsuit drier (madness!) and they’ve even installed a lift down to the pool hall.  The changing rooms are on a slightly higher level than the pool hall, with a series of steps down to get to the water.  If you were in a wheelchair, things would be tricky.  Not now.  A simple lift will take a wheelchair – or anyone else with mobility issues – down to the pool hall.  For good measure, they’ve converted a storage area in the pool hall to be a Changing Places facility for those that need it.  As far as I know, it’s the only council owned pool in Stockport to have one.

The pool hall’s also had some minor reconfiguration. Doors into the spectator area have been moved around to take into account access from the new reception area. The seating has been rejigged. And a bit near the pool’s deep end has been carved out to create a new corridor to the gym area. The pool itself? Well that’s pretty much what it was like when it was opened as one of the final acts of the soon to be replaced Bredbury and Romiley Urban District Council in 1973. A five lane 25m pool, with a – it has to be said – rather dinky small pool next to it.

It’s a nice pool. But the new changing rooms bring it up to a whole new level. The only disappointment is that even with all the reconfiguration, the sauna and steam room still aren’t easily accessible from the pool. That’s down to the layout of the building, where they were added on next to the gym changing room. Still, it’s better than it was. In the past you used to have to get dressed, go outside, back in the gym entrance, and then get undressed. Now you simply need to get dressed, walk down a corridor then get undressed again. Far better would it be if they ever work out a way to reconfigure the building so that the facilities are better positioned. But that’s probably asking just a bit much.

The reconfiguration did spur me on to try the health suite though. Which, incidentally, is painted in a calm, relaxing shade of… grey. The gym changing rooms? Well they look rather sad and neglected and in need of refurbishment. Well, perhaps the gym users can one dream of having things as nice as us swimmers.