Sport England has chosen Luton as one of 12 places across England for a pilot project to encourage more people to use their local swimming pools as part of its strategy to target inactivity and provide a great customer experience for all. Thanks to the National Lottery, Sport England’s grant for the project is £292k for an intensive, one-year programme awarded to Active Luton via Luton Borough Council as its local swimming provider.
Swimming is England’s largest participation sport according to Swim England, but the number of people swimming is in decline. Forty per cent of weekly swimmers just swim and do no other sport. Swimming is also the sport with the largest female participation and is the number one sport for people with disabilities.
Active Luton is about to embark on a programme of awareness-raising and improvements under the brand ‘Your Pool’ to encourage the people of Luton to use its swimming pools more – particularly people deemed ‘at risk’ of poor health, older people, children and young people, disabled people, women and girls and the black, Asian and minority ethnic (BAME) community. The plans include:
- A major refurbishment of changing rooms, toilets and pool viewing gallery at Lea Manor Recreation Centre
- New towel holders, hooks and benches on all pool sides
- Changing coin retain lockers to coin return at all three centres
- Introduction of Your Pool ‘Swim Champions’ working in the community and in centres to encourage people to try swimming and aqua classes and provide help, advice and reassurance when people visit centres
- Free SwimTag training aids on reception for swimmers at all Active Luton pools
- The introduction of longer opening hours – particularly at weekends for family swimming
- New and innovative sessions in the pools – including Aqua Yoga
- More frequent and more visible cleaning teams
To benchmark Luton against the national average, research was undertaken to understand where Luton sits on Swim England’s three ‘frontiers’ of swimming – from the relevance and awareness of swimming including why local people don’t swim, to the level of satisfaction with local swimming pools through to how people rate what’s on offer.
Although 87 per cent of the local community (versus 69 per cent nationally) had a positive perception of swimming in terms of health and wellbeing, only 47 per cent were aware of the location and existence of Inspire: Luton Sports Village. Twenty five per cent knew about Lea Manor pool and 26 per cent about Lewsey Pool.
In terms of Luton’s current swimming habits – 61 per cent (vs 70 per cent nationally) are able to swim and 32 per cent (vs 47 per cent nationally) currently go swimming. However when it comes to swimming with family, Luton is ahead of the game with 23 per cent (vs 17 per cent nationally) swimming with family.
Survey respondents were asked what changes they would make to encourage them to swim more and these included longer opening hours, quieter sessions, improving the quality of changing rooms and facilities and more varied swimming sessions. People who currently don’t swim were also asked why not. The reasons centred around body image, lack of interest, inability to swim, time pressures and perceptions around cleanliness.
Lisa O’Keefe, Sport England’s Director of Insight, said:
“Sport England is proud to be providing funding and support to Luton to help more people get active through swimming. A lot of research has gone into the development of the Swim Local projects to make sure we’re giving the local community what they want and need. We know swimming is one of the ways many people prefer to get active. At Sport England we want everyone to enjoy the benefits that exercise brings, and hope people in Luton take advantage of the exciting new swimming opportunities in the area.”
Helen Barnett, chief Executive of Active Luton comments:
“Your Pool is a holistic programme aimed at improving inactivity levels and general health and wellbeing through swimming and aquatic exercise. We’re about making small changes at our pools in pursuit of a big difference to the health of Luton from mothers and babies through to the elderly, people with long term health conditions and people with disabilities.”
“The reasons why people don’t swim didn’t surprise us too much and we will be working hard to encourage people to take the plunge and feel the benefits. We were however very surprised at the low levels of awareness about the existence and location of our pools – let alone what we offer in them - there’s clearly work to be done in the community to address this.”
Cllr Rachel Hopkins, Portfolio Holder for Public Health at Luton Borough Council, said: ‘We’re really pleased that Sport England’s ‘Swim Local’ initiative will be coming to Luton. Our public health commissioning team worked closely with Active Luton to be selected as one of only twelve sites nationally is something we’re really proud of.
“Active Luton’s Your Pool project will mean better access to improved swimming facilities and programmes and it’s an exciting time as we work to develop more leisure and culture opportunities through the Luton Investment Framework. We’re really looking forward to seeing the project develop and I would encourage local people to take advantage of the programme and visit their local Active Luton pool.”
Find out about swimming with Active Luton here.