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Harnessing Technology to Keep Our Public Swimming Pools Afloat

The new £63m funding package, unveiled in this year’s Spring Budget, was widely welcomed by UK sporting bodies, swimming organisations and private sector firms, which face the major challenge of keeping the nation’s pools afloat.

Myrtha Pools

Recent analysis has shown that nearly 400 swimming pools have been lost across England since 2010, with the pandemic and rising energy costs contributing to even more recent closures. Furthermore, based on current pool build trends, the number of available pools could decrease by more than 40% – almost 2000 pools – by the end of the decade, according to Swim England, the national body for swimming, in its 2021 report ‘A Decade of Decline’.

But with the growing popularity of modern methods of construction (MMC) to build or retrofit pools coupled with new pool technologies, local authorities are being offered a vital operational lifeline. Add in a resurgence in swimming’s popularity post-COVID, and the outlook needn’t look entirely gloomy.

Securing a sustainable future

The new financial measures to ‘leisure up’ the UK pool stock were a welcome support to many leisure operators – however, the key aim will now be to make facilities more energy efficient and attractive to users, both to ensure their survival and play a part in wider carbon-reduction ambitions.

The £63m, to be managed by Sport England, will allow local authorities to apply for funding for leisure centres with pools that face immediate cost pressures, including operational and maintenance costs as well as energy bills.

Jane Nickerson, Swim England’s Chief Executive, said the fund would help facilities become more environmentally sustainable and was an important recognition of the incredibly challenging situation currently facing swimming pools and their value to local communities.

“It will, undoubtedly, make a difference for a number of vulnerable pools as they battle with increased energy costs. Pool owners and operators are committed to reducing carbon emissions and there have been many positive examples from across the country,” she added.

Harnessing the private sector’s expertise

Collaboration between the public organisations and private companies has, therefore, never been so crucial. Technology and more efficient ways of working will be a key factor in the fight to keep the UK’s leisure centres afloat as well as making them more sustainable, viable and futureproofed.

Kate Mcknight, UK & Ireland Country Manager at Myrtha Pools – a leading aquatics company that designs, manufactures and installs innovative stainless-steel, modular pools – said: “When we are brought on board by an architect, distributor, local authority or contractor, it’s important for us to really understand the needs of the client and the local community.

“We consider the development of the intended pool programme, the users and really analyse the data that partner organisations, such as Swim England, produce. This helps to make an informed decision on the profile of a pool, whether a new one is required or if we are able to refurbish an existing pool to give the client the best option for their community needs. Ultimately, we aim to ensure the most sustainable option is selected.”

Heating a swimming pool – both the water and surrounding air – accounts for nearly 40% of a facility’s running cost. As a result, a more sustainable and efficient building can have long-term operational savings as well as a lower carbon footprint.

An example of this in action is the ground-breaking leisure facility in Spelthorne, which is on track to be one of the first wet and dry Passivhaus-certified leisure centres in the world. Designed by sports and leisure expert, GT3 Architects, and Passivhaus designer, Gale & Snowden, with national contractor Willmott Dixon appointed to deliver the project, Myrtha Pools is responsible for the pool, leisure and wellness elements.

Utilising modern methods of construction, a Myrtha pool has a 45% smaller carbon footprint than traditional methods of construction – which use tile and concrete – and offers cost savings of up to 20%. It was, therefore, a solid choice for the pioneering project, which is set to deliver energy and cost savings of up to 60% over the building’s lifecycle, and showcases the impact sustainable technology can have as well as how leisure centres can actively support a local authority’s net-zero targets.

The team will be closely monitoring the lessons learnt as well as the data generated by the facility, with a view to providing documentation around what is needed to create passive and healthy buildings within the leisure industry.

Utilising technology to maximise assets

Richard Lamburn, Head of Facilities at Swim England, said: “Swim England does a lot of work in advocating the need for swimming pools and we always aim to evidence the data, such as the increasing cost of gas and electricity, and demonstrate how technologies can reduce energy consumption costs and carbon.

“We’ve been at the forefront of looking at different technology, such as heat pumps, ceramic microfiltration, and considering the steel versus concrete argument. As a result, this year, we submitted data about such technologies to the Department for Digital, Culture, Media and Sport (DCMS), in partnership with Sport England.

“We were, therefore, delighted when the bank of evidence we collated and shared with DCMS directly helped to secure the recent £63m Government funding, as we showcased the impact that active investment could have on reducing carbon and energy consumption, rather than just supporting costs.

“This should hopefully give operators some breathing room and allow them to look at new ways of maximising their assets to get more people through the door.”

Looking to the future

Community leisure centres have, undoubtedly, faced a tough time over the past decade, but both Kate and Richard believe positive times lie ahead.

“COVID was massively damaging but also helped fuel a swimming resurgence,” said Kate. “I don’t know any local operator that doesn’t have a waiting list on learn-to-swim programmes. There’s a whole generation that missed out on that opportunity when leisure facilities were forced to close or run limited operations.

“Alongside this, the construction industry is intently focused on incorporating energy-reducing and cost-consumption programmes into their retrofit or new-build projects. Redevelopment is shaping the market and we’re proud to be at the forefront of helping lead this mindset alongside organisations, such as Swim England.”

Richard added: “We are passionate about ensuring that swimming is accessible to all as learning to swim at a very early age and being confident in water is a life skill, which can enable us to maintain a level of activity in later life.

“We’re cautiously optimistic about the future because of the technology and advancements that pool designers and manufacturers have made. Their work means it is possible to build pools at a much more sustainable level.”

Contact Myrtha Pools

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