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A report says the number of people who have returned to swimming at a local leisure centre is “a significant cause for concern”.

An overview and scrutiny committee at Lichfield District Council is due to examine the figures on user numbers at Burntwood Leisure Centre next week.

Burntwood Leisure Centre

A report from Cllr Richard Cox, cabinet member responsible for leisure, revealed that August had seen a 71% drop in user numbers since the same time last year.

While measures implemented due to coronavirus have restricted access to some facilities, the figures revealed that less than half of the capacity of the pool was being used.

Cllr Cox said the numbers were a cause for concern.

“The re-introduction of swimming seems to have been less well received [than other activities].

“It is important to stress the dramatic changes to the delivery of swimming – all sessions now have to be pre-booked, the main pool is principally lane-swimming only and the programme is sporadic initially providing 45-minute sessions followed by hour-long breaks to ensure effective cleaning.

“Swimmers will need some time to adjust to these changes.

“However, a 71% drop in participation alongside 56% spare capacity is a significant cause for concern, especially given the high cost of swimming provision.

“The swimming programme has changed from September, seeing the reintroduction of both school swimming and lessons, which is intended to drive significant swimming throughput.”

Cllr Richard Cox, Lichfield District Council

The financial impact of Burntwood Leisure Centre’s reduced capacity in the wake of the coronavirus crisis was also outlined by Cllr Cox.

He said money coming into the centre from users had fallen below the expectations of Freedom Leisure, which operates the facility on the council’s behalf.

“Income generated for the first full month of operation at Burntwood was just under £27,000, which was lower than Freedom Leisure’s pre-opening estimate of £73,000.

“The main reason for the shortfall was due to lower than expected swimming income.

“Expenditure has also been higher than Freedom Leisure’s pre-opening estimate – this principally related to additional staffing costs that were not covered by the Job Retention Scheme.”

Cllr Richard Cox, Lichfield District Council

Discussions on date for reopening of Friary Grange

Friary Grange Leisure Centre

The council has previously outlined how the behaviour of users at Burntwood would help inform the plans to reopen Friary Grange.

Although a site for a long-term replacement leisure facility in Lichfield has been earmarked, a short term refurbishment scheme is also due to take place at the existing centre in the city.

Cllr Cox said the plans for an October reopening of Friary Grange were still on track.

“The council has reaffirmed its commitment to Friary Grange and that the centre will reopen at the end of October.

“A date is currently being agreed with Freedom Leisure.

“The procurement process to appoint a contractor for the refurbishment project has now been completed.

“September will see an announcement of both the preferred contractor and also the anticipated start-on-site date.”

Cllr Richard Cox, Lichfield District Council

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3 Comments

  1. The pre-booking is a real pain and many parents with kids or other swimmers don’t necessarily have the time to sign up, get a login and so on. I saw parents just turning up at reception and being turned away – seems some sort of compromise is needed

  2. I have been swimming at Burntwood around 5 times per week since it reopened. To me, from a selfish point of view, the lanes are brilliant.
    The issue is making access easy. Comparing August this year to last year is so artificial – there are no open swimming sessions (rightly, to comply with Covid safety). So if you want a casual swim, forget it – the pool is basically only available for those who want to swim for fitness.
    Are there ways swimming can be promoted as an exercise of choice – offer swimming confidence lessons, assure swimmers pace is not critical, just try it.
    Can an equivalent of ‘Couch to 5K’ be considered?
    And perhaps Councillors would like to take the lead in using the pool themselves?

  3. I have to agree with Burntwood Bloke that pre-booking may be putting people off. That said, the early morning swimming sessions seem quite well attended and plenty of the regulars are back, but it is a lot harder for parents with young children to be organised enough to plan ahead and fit in with strict time slots.

    Lots of children, including my own, have benefited from swimming club lessons in Burntwood and plenty of adults, including older people, in our area keep fit through regular swimming too. Our local pool is such a valuable resource for the whole community, we cannot let the current health crisis impact on its future. It is understandable that people are nervous about getting back in the pool given the circumstances, but this is hopefully a temporary situation and the importance of the facilities in the longer term should not be underestimated.

    Perhaps it might help some prospective swimmers if there were a short video on the Freedom Leisure site showing what the new lane swimming arrangements look like in practice? The lanes are very wide and there is no pressure to go faster than you want to. The new system seems to be working well to me and I am very grateful that I have the opportunity to swim again.

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