Bristol swimming club fears for future after teaching ban
A BRISTOL swimming club fears for its future due to a ban on teaching youngsters in council-run pools.
The Portway Swimming Club, which has taught an estimated 3,000 youngsters how to swim during the past 70 years, uses council-owned Henbury Pool for its twice-weekly sessions.
But from April 1, the club will no longer be able to use the pool to teach their newest recruits – usually the youngest aged five and six upwards – because of a new contract between the council and a firm called Sports and Leisure Management (SLM) which runs most of the council’s leisure centres.
The contract means only SLM will be able to provide lessons in council-run pools to swimmers who are taking the first seven levels of Learn to Swim’s National Teaching Plan. Swimmers taking higher levels of the plan are not affected.
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Club secretary Caroline Wilkins said the contract would effectively cut off its supply of new members and therefore put its future in doubt.
The club currently has 105 members, 35 of whom would be affected by the ban.
The club is hoping to use a pool at Bradley Stoke to provide sessions for its youngest members but it is not clear how long the arrangement might continue.
Bristol North West Tory MP Charlotte Leslie, a former swimming champion, has accused the council of trying to monopolise tuition at the expense of the city’s clubs.
There are six swimming clubs in the city but it is understood only one other – The Penguins, based at Easton – is also affected.
Ms Leslie said: “It was with utter dismay that I spoke with parents from north Bristol who told me that a new dictat from the city council means that lessons for younger swimmers will be taken out of the jurisdiction of fine clubs like Portway from April, giving a virtual monopoly for the organisations running our leisure centres.
“This means that although the clubs, in theory, could continue to offer the lessons, they cannot do it in council-run pools, making it prohibitive for all sorts of reasons.
“In the period when we are supposed to have an Olympic legacy, this centralisation seems utterly ridiculous, not to mention disgraceful.
“Parents have told me that when their children are forced to have lessons with the sports centre management organisations, there are frequent cases of cancellations. Significantly, the parents tell me that the whole experience of lessons through the clubs is much more positive.
“We are now in the situation where parents who are dissatisfied with the teaching from the Learn-to-Swim sessions run by the leisure centre contractors will approach clubs like Portway only to be told: ‘We’d love to teach your child but the council won’t let us.’
“I am deeply concerned that this is a misguided policy set up to simply make money for the leisure centres.”
Ms Leslie is supporting a petition launched by the Portway club and has also begun a more wide-ranging petition aimed at tackling the problem across the whole city.
The petitions can be found at: www.change.org/petitions/bristol- city-council-sos-save-our-swimming and also keepclubswimming.bristolpetitions.com.
Darren Jones, Labour’s prospective candidate for Bristol North West, said: “The Portway Swimming Club is a Bristol institution.
“It’s trained generations of young people across the constituency. The proposed changes will bring the future survival of the club into question and will be a significant loss to local families if it were to go.
“In the first year of legacy after the 2012 GB Olympic games I just can’t understand why the council would take steps towards such an outcome.”
A council spokeswoman said: “We have worked with local swimming clubs in the city to determine the future delivery of swimming lessons. And in partnership with the ASA and national guidance, it has been agreed the council’s sports providers will take this on. They are well-placed to provide swimming lessons to young learners and improvers, they have professional, qualified staff on hand and can programme appropriate pool time for learners. This move will happen over a planned period of time – which is starting now.
“Parents can rest assured they will not have to criss-cross the city to access quality swimming lessons for their children – there is flexibility for pool time within the timetable at Bristol pools for children to swim locally and together.
“Local swim clubs will continue to be a respected and valuable asset to swimming in Bristol. Their experience and expertise will take swimmers to the next level – and they are still able and encouraged to offer swimming lessons at levels 8, 9 and 10 of the National Teaching Plan.”