Following the Coronavirus pandemic and subsequent lockdown, in many areas of life new rules apply – the much heralded ‘new normal’. So, we wanted to look ahead and explore what the ‘new normal’ could look like for the UK’s swimming pools.
Government guidance had stated that swimming pools cannot reopen before 4 July 2020. But with pubs, restaurants and cinemas all now open, but not pools - the big question is when? The Government is set to announce the re-opening of pools soon. So, we thought we’d share some of our thoughts on how pools may operate post-lockdown. Here’s our top 10 ways your experience of pool swimming may change:
Cash is dead – Some operators have described the result of Coronavirus as instigating 10 years’ worth of change in a matter of months. One of the biggest changes will be how we pay. Swimming pools were one of the last bastions of the cash age. ‘Pay and play’ is likely to be largely replaced by online/app bookings - book and pay for your swim in advance. This could have some major positive impacts on your experience – fewer queues at reception and you will at least know that you will be able to access the pool at your desired time. Advanced systems could even allocate you a lane depending on your swimming ability?
Time limits – could be imposed to restrict each swim to a set period of time. This will help manage the pool capacity levels, enabling more people to be able to enjoy a swim.
Double lanes – Swim lanes may be widened as part of the physical distancing measures. Double lanes will reduce the standard 6-lane 25m pool to just 3 double lanes, enabling swimmers to more easily distance themselves.
Bather-load – Capacity in swimming pools, referred to as ‘bather-load’ (a very old term), may be reduced. Bather-load may be restricted and managed (possibly via the app) to ensure pool capacities and hence physical distancing guidelines are not exceeded.
Spectators – may be banned, or restricted to a set number permitted into the venue or specific area.
Changing rooms – The concern relating to COVID-19 in the pool environment is less in-water, but more in the changing rooms. Some studies have shown that chlorine kills the virus, but the lockers, benches, cubicles etc in the changing areas are a potential battleground for the virus. The dry-side changing rooms, which tend to be smaller may close for a while due to the space needed for social distancing.
Beach swim – a new term ‘beach-ready’ is already being used to describe the way you could arrive and depart from a leisure centre pre-changed, thereby avoiding the changing rooms altogether. This may actually depend on you arriving by car (if you have one), as it may not be considered appropriate to get the bus home in your Dryrobe, dressing gown or wrapped in a towel?
Cleaning – you will be encouraged to see so much cleaning going on in the centre. The leisure centre teams will be fully focussed on providing a safe and clean environment for all
Price of a swim – may increase. Swimming is one of the least expensive leisure activities and typically is around £5 per adult session. The leisure centre operators and the local authorities who own them are likely to face incredible financial challenges – which could result in some services being cut and others increased in price. Also, the cost of the investment in technology to enable a safer, app-booked swim may also need to be taken into account. Swimming is a largely subsidised activity due to the high cost of operating and managing a pool, so please don’t be surprised if your casual swim increases in price.
Timetable changes – everything will change and that includes the timetable. The likely new rules and different ways of operating mean big changes are possible to pool programming. Expect to see changes, including to existing sessions and block bookings. But at least use of the booking app should help you avoid turning up at the centre, when a lane swim is not possible.
There are also other ways your swim may be affected – there remains a high possibility for some pools to remain closed for an extended period of time or in some cases, to not to reopen at all. The pools, operators and local authorities are likely to be in a very challenging position and we should all be aware of the difficulties they face. Please do keep your membership active (if you are able to), keep visiting the centre, support your pool’s initiatives and expect some change. Please also make a point to thank the staff teams at the pools.
Our nation’s leisure centres will need your support now more than ever before as we all discover the swimming pool ‘new normal’.