TAKE away Ashton-under-Lyne’s swimming pool and you are taking away more than just water. You are taking away a community hub, a place people can feel safe, integrate and make themselves feel better.
That is the warning those being most affected by the proposal to shut it in September have sounded.
Active Ashton, as it is known, is one of three centres being closed by Active Tameside because of a cash crisis.
The Correspondent detailed money problems it owned up to before making the decision to close Ashton, Active Etherow and Adventure Longdendale.
It also told how the town’s MP, Angela Rayner, feels it will have to be knocked down and completely replaced rather than renovated.
Now the people campaigning to save the facility from closure, those who use it every day, have spoken of the effect not being able to use it and having to move elsewhere in the borough will have.
With several people getting out of the pool and emerging into the outdoors with water still dripping from them, they told The Correspondent the damage it will cause.
Zafar Hussain said: “It’s like a family here, it’s a big loss to us. Everybody looks after everybody. We feel safe and secure. Not everybody has a car, so they can’t get up to the other centres.”
75-year-old Mohammed Saddique added: “I don’t have a car but I come every day as it makes me feel better. I use the gym, sauna, steam and swimming.
“I’m really upset, a lot of people are. If it closes, we’re going to be hanging in front of the town hall.”
Jade Jackson, who lives in Hattersley, spoke of the role Active Ashton has played in her personal life.
She said: “I’m in recovery from drug and alcohol abuse, I’m two years sober.
“I only come here and it’s like a community, I feel safe and secure. It’s more than just fitness, t’s different this centre. It’s a hub.”
Tony Cummings, who goes every day, said: “I’m devastated. It helps everybody with their mental health.
“Where are all the people going to go? I wouldn’t have thought it would take that much money to put this right, yet they (Tameside Council) want to spend it on the bus station and the market?”
Tameside Council, which owns the building and lets Active Tameside manage it, secured £20 million for Ashton from the Government’s Levelling Up Fund.
However, as many people question this decision, that money cannot be used on Active Ashton, it must be spent on what it was earmarked for in its application.
Other outraged users raised different points about the value of the pool.
One lady called Kerry said: “Special needs children have learned how to swim here. The teachers here have so much patience for the kids and without it, these kids are never going to get life skills.
“They had the money for it, where’s the money gone? There’s plenty of land elsewhere too.
“What’s the point of doing a tram service and bringing everything in, if they’re going to take this away?
“They want to put a fountain on Ashton Market. We’ll have to go and swim in the fountain.
“Kids’ deaths will go up because of this. It has a knock-on effect – the Government wants us to be healthy.”
Cecilia added: “As an immigrant, immigrants can be afraid to go to places in a town like this. I’ve been coming here for years. This gym helped me to belong.
“When I was ill recently, the only things that gave me relief were the yoga class, the sauna and the swimming.
“I will fight for this.”
Kirk told The Correspondent: “I come for my mental health four times a week. I won’t come if they close this. I’m limited about where I can go. I feel safe here.”
Others added: “Its like a community here rather than just a pool. We’ve got lifelong friends here. We met each other, we go out for lunch together.
“I know ladies who have been bereaved. They’ve come in really depressed and I’ve seen them lose weight and gain confidence. I’s wonderful to see what’s it’s done for people.
“These people will end up at the doctor’s or the hospital if they lose this.
“I’m not being dramatic when I say it’s literally saved my life. I was in a very deep depression and started coming here 12 years ago, lost weight and got my confidence and went on. That’s what it does for people.
“The average age for the clubs here is over 50 and some women are in their 70s or 80s. They say it’s when they stop coming that their arthritis comes back – where are these ladies going to go?
“I rely on the pool to keep my mental health straight. Everybody’s affected by it in one way or another. The classes are packed, they just don’t understand.”
Former Ashton Green Party councillor Lee Huntbach knows what Active Ashton can bring after being referred there himself.
He also believes Tameside Council, which said it could not provide the funds Active Tameside wanted to maintain its level of service, has missed a trick in not exploring renewable energy sources.
He said: “The pools provide gentle, non-impact exercise to help with medical conditions affecting my fitness and also my joints.
“I’m lucky that I have the option to drive to Copley or Denton but many Ashton residents simply don’t have that choice.
“This facility has provided Tameside’s most deprived ward with swimming facilities right in the heart of their community.
“I understand that gas and oil heating costs have escalated but that makes it all the more frustrating that sustainable alternatives using renewables haven’t been explored.
“This council belatedly declared a climate emergency in February 2020 but apart from transitioning to LED streetlights and planting a few trees, the follow up action has been woeful.
“Skyrocketing fossil fuel prices and Tory funding cuts are legitimate reasons for strains on council budgets but this one consistently fails to find alternative solutions where others have.”
You can sign the petition online: https://tinyurl.com/5n73zhdv