Purley campaign demands answers over pool’s lack of funding

Purley Pool and leisure centre have been under seemingly permanent threat of closure for a decade

CROYDON IN CRISIS: With Greenwich Leisure, who operate the borough’s leisure facilities, under intense covid-19 financial pressures of their own, local mum RACHEL GARNETT (pictured left) explains the vital importance of the continuing campaign to save Purley Pool from closure

Every day, staff at Purley Leisure Centre would swing open its doors to enable people to take responsibility for their health – lessening the burden on the NHS and social care.

No matter what your income, you would be able to access a 25-metre pool, a teaching pool and a recently upgraded gym.

It is where tens of thousands of children have learnt to swim, a life-preserving skill – a skill that all children need, not just those whose parents can afford it. Local schools across the south of the borough from Coulsdon to South Croydon came to Purley Leisure Centre for the swimming classes that are part of the curriculum.

It was home for fitness classes and sports clubs, including a swimming club for people with disabilities.

It was where you saw people and made friends.

Given how loneliness, poor mental and physical health impact our society and the economy, these are all these vital aspects of healthy life – something that covid-19 has laid bare.

The centre was constantly well attended and brought in custom for the local economy. The pool is very accessible, as Purley is a transport hub. Croydon’s next nearest leisure centre is at Waddon; from Coulsdon or Kenley, it can be at least a two-hour round-trip via irregular public transport and the traffic-clogged Purley Way.

Of course, and in common with all the borough’s leisure centres operated by GLL under their Better brand, Purley Leisure Centre had to shut during the first coronavirus lockdown last March. But when Croydon’s other centres reopened, Purley was kept closed.

The Save Purley Pool Campaign is fighting  to save the centre for the third time since 2010

The council kept schtum, with no word or consultation with local people about why their leisure centre had been singled out in this way, apparently abandoned.

Purley Pool has long seemed under threat of closure, whoever has been in charge of the Town Hall. The local resident-led Save Purley Pool Campaign, originally run by Fred Wallis, had saved the pool from closure by the council twice before, when under threats from the Conservatives in 2010 and then when Labour were in charge in 2015. By 2016, there was cross-party support in the council for keeping a public pool in Purley.

Too often, there is a view that the south of the borough is affluent. This is not the reality.

Purley Food Hub, which helps local people in crisis who are without food, provided nearly 49,000 meals in 2020. Many schools in and around Purley have higher than the national average of children with special educational needs, disabilities or who have free school meals.

Purley Leisure Centre had a higher proportion of over-60s using it than any of the borough’s other pools through the council’s free swimming sessions. But that free concession for this age group ended last month.

There is a large volume of house- and flat-building in the south of the borough, with more people moving into the area, just at a time when the council seems set to remove the provision of a vital community service – its fitness and leisure centre. More residents would mean more users of Purley Leisure Centre – and this would surely only add to the centre’s income.

Covid is an increasingly desperate situation for thousands of people. No wonder, then, that thousands of us who use Purley Leisure Centre have rallied to support it.

The Save Purley Pool Campaign, of which I am part, has gathered together again.

After months of asking what was happening with Purley Pool, we were told by Councillor Oliver Lewis, the cabinet member for sport and leisure at the council, that the reason the pool wasn’t reopening was because of the council’s finances.

So is the council not applying for a slice of the millions of pounds available in covid recovery grants and sports funding?

Just last Friday, there was a deadline for applications for the £100million UK Active Fund. Cllr Lewis and council officials knew about this well in advance, because we told them about it. The Government fund was set up specifically for leisure centres which have been financially hit by covid-related closures.

We know the council didn’t apply for Purley. Have they applied for the borough’s other leisure centres?

We have asked, but so far no reply.

Good at making cuts: Cllr Oliver Lewis

This is important. We were told that the newer, more-profitable, leisure centres help to support others, like Purley – a cross-subsidy system that was working well before lockdown. Covid has affected the income of all the centres in Croydon and the council said that this was one reason why Purley couldn’t reopen. If the council could get compensation for the losses as a result of covid then they could plug that gap and plan towards a reopening at Purley.

But if the Council have not applied for other centres to help with Covid losses it makes no sense – for Purley or indeed all the other centres.

Two “asset” reports about Purley Leisure Centre, one new and one old, were also cited by the council among the financial reasons for its closure. The reports essentially show a lack of maintenance on the facilities in Purley going back years. Maintenance is the council’s responsibility.

The 2020 asset report was written by an architectural and design practice (I wonder how much they were paid?). But if we take what the reports say at face value – we don’t know why they were commissioned – the amount needed to bring Purley up to standard is approximately £200,000, or what the Croydon public now call, “less than half a Negrini”…

Even before the UK Active Fund, there were many other funding streams available which the council should be aware of and submitting applications for. It is seven years ago now since the leadership of Croydon Labour accepted a paper which made a firm recommendation for the council to take advantage of the approximate £1billion-worth of grant funding available in this country every year for all kinds of sports and fitness projects. Nothing was ever done about those recommendations.

Croydon Council is bankrupt, after making terrible financial decisions, such as handing hundreds of millions of pounds to the failing house-builders Brick by Brick.

The council may be wanting to sell off the Purley Leisure Centre site to the highest bidder because of their financial mistakes. This would be short-sighted and wrong, because people need the leisure centre and local businesses need it.

But what we also need is a council prepared to take responsibility for their actions, starting by accessing available money, so that children, those with chronic health issues, older people and all the users of the pool and gym can return through its welcoming doors.

Read more: Libraries Week, but not in Coulsdon, Purley, South Norwood…
Read more: Council forced to declare itself bankrupt
Read more: BxB-built library which has never opened is now to be closed

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9 Responses to Purley campaign demands answers over pool’s lack of funding

  1. David Simons says:

    Keep on campaigning Rachel;

    “After months of asking what was happening with Purley Pool, we were told by Councillor Oliver Lewis, the cabinet member for sport and leisure at the council, that the reason the pool wasn’t reopening was because of the council’s finances”…But he saw fit to approve and hand over 1 million pound (plus) to keep Fairfield closed.

    The Chief Executive of BH Live, (the swimming pool operators that have a non signed lease on the Fairfield and a brimming and frothing bank account courtesy of Croydon tax payers) was until recently a founding director at Greenwich Leisure – how do his old friends in the smoke feel about the cash they so desperately needed to keep pools open (and sports stadiums) being given to their old comrade, sunning himself on the beach at Bournemouth ?

    The point is Rachel, Lewis is inept and has no real knowledge of what is going on. The officers at the council make all these dreadful decisions and he blindly accepts what he is told and spouts it out verbatim when questioned.

    Borough of Culture my arse, Croydon is culturally corrupt and in the hands of these people.

    Hand back Croydon assets to the people of Croydon to manage, leisure centres, parks, swimming pools and the Fairfield!

  2. Maurice says:

    Rachel Garnett continue to hold Croydon Council to account. This is a vital resource for young and old alike swimming is something that can be used to save a life or indeed save the swimmers life. The comradeship that many feel from isolation when there is no pandemic can be elevated from getting out and doing activities. The worth of such centres cannot be underestimated

  3. Peter Underwood says:

    We know that the Council’s priorities are mixed up. Money should be spent on public services and facilities like this and it should be the bloated salaries of the senior officials that should be cut. I fully support residents fighting to keep and restore our public services.
    Unfortunately the save Purley pool campaign, like similar campaign across Croydon are being used by hypocrites like Chris Philp and the other Conservatives just to have a go at Labour. If they genuinely cared about public services they wouldn’t keep voting for more cuts in funding and selling off our services to their friends to make a profit.
    Before allowing politicians to join campaigns like this, and be featured in photo opportunities like the photo in this article, they should be forced to make a public commitment to increase public spending in order to finance these services and facilities.

  4. Jeremy Thompson says:

    What on earth does this Labour council stand for? You might expect Tory led councils to be cutting public services, their track record proves it. But a Labour one? When funding is available why would you not apply for it? Pride? Party politics? Or just simple incompetence? In the meantime, as Rachel Garnett so eloquently describes here, people and communities suffer. If there’s one thing the pandemic has shown it’s how crucial exercise such as swimming is for our physical and mental health. It’s clear that this inept council’s priorities lie elsewhere.

  5. Mohammed of Peaks Hill says:

    I am a Purley resident, and object to any further waste on the swimming pool.
    If Purley residents really need it that badly, then private enterprises would have clamoured to lease it.
    I have used it a couple of times myself in last 15 years, and can on both I found that it had about 2 dozing employees per each swimmer, very badly maintained, and with unpleasant overall experience.
    Shut it or sell it and reduce our horrendous council tax please.

    • Jeremy Thompson says:

      The pool is already operated by a private enterprise in the form of GLL. Suggest you read the article more closely. It’s not calling for council tax funding, rather that grants are applied for which can pay for the maintenance. If you think closing the pool will save you a few pennies on your council tax, good luck with that. Bear in mind that if we don’t have facilities like Purley Pool we all pay more in tax for healthcare in the long term. Sorry to hear that you don’t want to keep the pool open, thousands of people who signed the petition do. For many the pool is a lifeline.

  6. Lewis White says:

    Excellent article from Rachel Garnett. She exactly spells the importance of the centre to the community of children and older people as well as everyone else. Plus the geographical benefit of having the centre right in the middle of Purley, where people from the whole of the South of Croydon can get to it easily by bus or car, or even by train and bike. This is so central for us all.

    In the short term, like many others, I desperately want to see the centre re-opened so that I can go and use it again. My pre-covid weight was bad enough, but now…… (!)

    In the short term, after reopening, I would like to see the pool / gym changing rooms at Purey given a refurbishment that would last well for 10 to 15 years. The Victorians and even the much-maligned architects of the 50s and 60s used really good materials like quarry tiled floors and skritings , and heavy duty wall tiles which stand up well for 50 years and more to a wet , chlorine-permeated environment, and the bashing received from the ocasional vandal, as well as legitimate wear and tear, plus–in the case of skirtings, the floor mop of the cleaner, .

    Sadly, materials used at Purley included lot of painted woodwork (horridly stained skirtings and greasy doors inevitable) and were not of the robustness needed. How ever good the cleaning regime, the changing rooms can’t stand up to the public use regime, and must put many potential users off from using the pool and gym, which are pleasant environments.

    Longer term, but within 10 years, there must be a crying need for redevelopment of the whole site of the Leisure Centre, multi storey and ex-supermarket.

    The pool is unusual–it is not in the ground, but suspended. You can walk under it. I wonder what its designed life was? It must be much less than a concrete pool in the ground. My guess is that and its pipework and other services must be coming up for part replacement and tghus, major investment.
    Coming back to the building and site, I would see a potential for a new Leisure Centre, and Public Library, on the site, together with flats for sale or rent, and a smaller public multi storey car park to meet the day and nigh-parking needs of existing and new local residents, and people visiting the hospital and local small shops.

    Tesco is so big, and has such a gigantic car park, that it is unlikely that Purley would support another major store, unless Aldi or Lidl would see a demand big enough to support one of their strores. Leisure use of the ground floor of the Lesiure centre site, and ex supermarket, makes good sense.

    My design solution would be to sell Purley Library with planning permisison for a tallish block of well-designed flats. The front elevation of the Library and front roof could be kept. It is a very well-crafted example of English Art Deco which used dark-brown bricks and Spanish mission style pantiles. I’m sure that good architect could combine it with a well-crafted block of flats.

    Move Library to meet the Leisure centre on the High Street site, on the ground floor of a new building, with flats above. To give the building an “active frontage” — stopping it having a blank frontage to the High Street– the library would be on the street frontage of the ground floor, with a cafe, with the pool to the North side, where the supermarket used to be. Co-location of Pool, Gym, Library and cafe would make sense, on this central and well-connected site.

    Planning of the site needs to start now, and would take at least 5 years to achieve. But the impact of Covid, plus the large number of new flats being built in Croydon town centre, might well make this Purey project more profitable to open in 10 years.

    • Alastair Davis says:

      Purley Library is a listed building, so cannot be knocked down and built on. It is grade 2 listed and a simple Google search shows it was listed in 2001 including forecourt wall.

  7. Yes keep this up Rachel – Both my children learned to swim there despite us being some miles away. This was a good family pool and both the children and us have very happy memories there.

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