Club numbers drop following closure of Ashton’s swimming pool

THE CONSEQUENCES of closing Ashton-under-Lyne’s swimming pool are being felt with a drop in participation numbers.

And Ashton Swimming Club chairman Steve Shilley has outlined his concerns following the controversial move to Hyde, which has seen figures plummet by 50 per cent.

Despite a series of emotionally fuelled protests, which included a petition signed by more than 7,000 people, the pool shut in September following a decision by Active Tameside.

That meant the club was forced to relocate to Active Hyde, four miles away, to continue its lessons and competitions.

Members of Ashton swimming club

Swimmers, coaches and volunteers voiced their displeasure – with Steve describing the decision as a bitter pill to swallow.

In fact, he believes the club’s protest were futile and labelled the move as ‘foregone conclusion’.

And while he has begrudgingly accepted the club’s fate, he has taken aim at the lack of support from local councillors and dignitaries, describing their absence as a ‘total disgrace’.

Ashton MP Angela Rayner has also been singled out for her supposed ‘disappearance’ during the protests.

Speaking to The Correspondent about the implications of the move to Hyde – which include a 50 per cent decrease in participation figures on a Wednesday night – Steve said: “The numbers have dropped slightly and the figures on a Wednesday evening are low because a lot of our swimmers took part in other activities on the same night.

“When they joined the club, they knew we trained on Tuesday and Thursday, so they planned everything around that and can’t just suddenly drop their other activities.

The former Active site in Ashton-under-Lyne

“It’s been a difficult transition in that respect and one I struggle to deal with knowing how hard we fought to protest the closure.

“It feels like a kick in the teeth – especially the lack of response and support from Angela Rayner.

“We tried to remind her about our original protest in 2017, which she attended with placards outside the pool.

“We felt as if she knew nothing could be done to prevent the closure, so we didn’t even get a reply from her. We believe the idea of a car park has more political clout behind it than anything else.

“Angela totally ignored everybody. All we got in response was a standard council letter. We invited her down to the protests, but she was nowhere to be seen. To say she’s meant to represent the people of Ashton is disgusting.”

Unfortunately, several other pools across the country have suffered the same fate as Ashton in recent months amid financially testing times.

In Cheshire, Knutsford Leisure Centre has been earmarked for closure in April 2024, while Poynton Leisure Centre is facing a battle to keep the doors open.

Although Steve understands the financial reasons behind the decisions, he still questions the ethics and ‘hypocrisy’ of Tameside Council – pointing specifically to the money and resources being used on other projects in the area.

He added: “I just don’t know what Tameside Council wants. They’re planning to spend £11 million on Ashton Market.

“We put a poll on our Facebook page asking if people would rather have money spent on renovating the market square or keeping the pool and gym open. Out of 1,000 responses, only 35 opted for the market.

“I can’t help but think that Tameside Council is very wasteful with money and resources. It could be channelled into other areas for the betterment of Tameside, especially Ashton in our case.

“In my opinion, markets were a thing of the 70s, 80s and perhaps the 90s. Very few people need a market in this day and age. Online shopping has taken over – that’s a symptom of low footfall.

“If they can find the money to knock the building down – which is apparently close to £1 million – why not see if they can obtain money from Swim England and match it?

“I find it baffling that they spent a considerable amount of money, which I believe to be £200,000, renovating the gym with new equipment, only for it to be closed in a matter of months. It’s not just the swimmers who have been affected by the closure, but the gym goers as well.”

Although the club has been faced with a difficult few months, Steve has vowed to fight on and believes the move to Hyde could potentially attract a new wave of swimmers to the club.

And he is hoping the club can make a big splash in 2024 when activities resume following the Christmas break.

He said: “We’re hoping to attract new members in the early stages of the new year.

“However, we don’t know what the future holds and we’re just ticking over with the swimmers that we currently have.

“Usually, when the age groups move up, we have new swimmers join to fill the gaps. If we don’t have new swimmers to fill the gaps, then it’s going to be a struggle.

“There’s a new catchment area to capitalise on, which includes a lot of schools. However, when children join they need to be accompanied by or brought to the sessions by adults.

“That in itself is a big issue as some parents don’t have the time nor the travel arrangements to make that happen.

“It’s a big commitment for parents and something we’re wary of, but we have to be open minded and willing to give it a go in order to continue the success we’ve enjoyed over many years.

“Although we live in uncertain times, I do have to give credit to the trust and the management at Hyde as they’ve been brilliant. They couldn’t have done enough for us in terms of making the transition from Ashton to Hyde as smooth as possible.

“The facilities are wonderful and it’s just a pity that we can’t pick the pool up and move it to Ashton.”

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