In writing this article, I paused to consider all the times in my life I have undertaken different activities in Leisureland, Irish dancing, playing quasar and arcade games, enjoying pantomime, attending concerts, doing exams, football training, enduring election counts, participating in teacher in-service and upskilling. I expect many readers have similar and varied memories.
In the wide variety of events that have happened in the decades since Leisureland was built, there is one consistent activity that we all associate with the centre.
Leisureland without the pool would be like Blackrock without the diving tower. The fundamental purpose of the facility would be significantly reduced.
Benefit to the community
The first I heard of fears that the pool would close came in an email from one of the swimming clubs last Sunday week. I did not respond initially; as bad as things might get, I felt the board of Leisureland would never let that happen. The council chief executive then claimed at the council meeting of Monday September 14 that the facility was losing €20,000 weekly. I sensed then a case was being built to get the approval of councillors to close the facility.
We received correspondence on Wednesday 16 claiming that the board proposed “not operating the swimming pool or gym but remaining to operate the facility as a meeting and events venue”. I subsequently wrote to the chairman of the board and the city manager seeking a change of heart and asking that special consideration would be given to the swimming and water polo clubs' use of the pool.
Further correspondence was received from the board on Friday outlining the bewildering information that they proposed to operate solely as a meeting and events venue for the remainder of 2020 at a cost of €178,000. The letter also advised that to keep all facilities open would cost €207,000. I doubted myself that I was reading the correspondence accurately. I thought the €178,000 was bad value compared to the cost of keeping the pool open. While opening the pool would be somewhat more expensive, the community benefit would make it much better value.
I was pleased on Monday that most of the council agreed with me. Despite that, reflecting on the Monday’s debate and what emanated from the deliberations of the board is somewhat unsettling. The chairperson of the board sought clarification and queried the figures as presented by the company secretary.
Members of the board who proposed to close the facility were now vowing to do all to keep it open and most troubling, when my colleague Cllr Peter Keane asked if the board had applied to a specific fund established by the Government to support swimming pools through the Covid crisis, no one from the board or the top table could provide a definite answer. Such was the nature of the responses; one could have arrived at the conclusion that the board had no awareness of the available fund prior to Cllr Keane’s contribution.
'Swimming is an important life skill for wellbeing, both physical and mental, and safety. Drowning is the third leading cause of unintentional death worldwide'
It unsettled me also that three members of the council sought to close the only fully public swimming pool in the city when to me there appeared to be a reasonable solution. The benefit of learning to swim should not be limited to those who can afford to pay private gym membership. Leisureland plays an important role in ensuring access for all to learn to swim.
Swimming is an important life skill for wellbeing, both physical and mental, and safety. Drowning is the third leading cause of unintentional death worldwide and an average 120 people in Ireland drown annually, the vast majority because of accidental drowning.
Need for a cosistent vision
Aquatics is a strand of the primary school curriculum from infants to sixth class and is one that the children thoroughly enjoy.
I am again troubled by the contribution of the company secretary and chairman on radio Tuesday morning. Both alluded to an inevitability that Leisureland will close in 2021. That is failing to recognise the mood of the elected council representing the community at last Monday’s meeting. The board now has time and should reflect more purposefully on how the situation can be addressed in the interests of the community as much as the interests of business.
Don’t tell me that times are harder now than they were in the early 1970s. Resources were scarce then but those who pioneered the development of a public swimming pool never wanted something that would enrich the city financially, they wanted a facility where children could learn, enjoy, compete, and develop camaraderie. They had a vision that wanted to enrich the community in a much more valuable way.
While the people who oversee the management of the venue may have changed, the vision should be constant.