Shaftesbury’s Oasis Swimming Pool will be ‘massively refurbished’ before it opens in the spring.
Town Council business manager, Brie Logan, says this scheduled makeover follows a 44% increase in pool tickets sold during last year’s warm summer. ThisIsAlfred’s Keri Jones visited the Barton Hill attraction with manager, Ryan Baker, and heard about plans for the season ahead.
As we walked around the edge of the pool, the bright blue plastic cover which protects the water from the elements above had peeled back, leaving one corner exposed. Ryan told me that severe weather can present difficulties for the facility. The worst example came in 2012, when the pool’s roof caved in under the weight of snow. That’s why Oasis Pool is open-air once again – just as Ryan remembers from his childhood.
“I did actually come swimming here as a young child when it was actually an open air pool then as well. It changed from open air to an indoor pool and now it is an open air pool again. It was very different to how it looks now. It was quite cold and it wasn’t heated at the time,” he said.
Last year the weather was kind to Ryan and his team. 7,144 pool tickets were sold compared to 4,928 in 2017. Ryan accepts that days of sunshine do boost the pool’s popularity. “The weather is key. I think everybody loves an outdoor pool in the warm sunny weather,” said Ryan, adding. “But it’s the staffing too – the way that we run the pool and the lifeguards are really friendly. We’ve got a really good team up here. We all work hard over the summer months.”
Ryan is passionate about swimming. He has worked as an instructor at Riversmeet and Port Regis School. He joined the Shaftesbury pool team in 2012 and stayed until its enforced closure. He rejoined when it reopened and now manages the facility for the Town Council.
He’s proud of the pool’s uniqueness. “The deep end is 2.1 meters and even the shallow end is quite deep, at 1.2 metres. That is certainly deeper than the normal, shallow end of other pools in the area. There’s no real reason behind it to be honest. It’s just the design of the pool. Maybe in the older days, the pools were slightly deeper.”
Last week, the Town Council agreed to invest in an overhaul of pool facilities and decoration of the interior and exterior. Deputy Mayor, Lester Taylor, highlighted the hooks hanging off the wall in the changing room and the state of the wooden pillars. He told the meeting that the facility needed urgent attention. “If it starts going downhill, it goes down quick,” Lester said.
Ryan thinks the money will make a difference. “We’re looking at a rather large amount of money that’s going to be put into the pool – around £18,000 – which will be spent on updating the showers. We’re going to look at getting some new lockers. We’re going to do a really big paint job, so every wall in this building will be painted. It will look nice and fresh, so hopefully everybody coming back will see a significant change and think that it’s a newer pool,” he said.
Users have shared feedback about the showers and Ryan says that fixing them will be a priority. “We’re trying to make them slightly warmer, so just improving that user experience,” said Ryan.
The refurbishment work is out to tender. One of the potential contractors is social enterprise Build Love, run by Nikki Dodds. Her project team has refurbished the Bell Street toilets for the Council and her workforce of Guys Marsh Prison inmates have learned new skills at the same time. “We’re just getting some quotes on it at the moment but certainly they are one of the quotes that we were looking at,” said Ryan.
When the work is complete, Ryan and his team will have something to promote. He’s keen to extend the awareness of the pool and bring in new users. “We’re going to try and introduce some Aquafit classes or Aqua Zumba,” he said. “I am going to have a chat with a few instructors and try and get some variety into our sessions. It’s come about quite recently, but hopefully it will attract all types of people. We want everybody to use our pool, not just the kids.”
Recently the Oasis Pool began swimming sessions for naturists and they proved popular. “We get them down on the second Tuesday of every month. It is open to anybody for £5 a session. We will do the same again this season and, in terms of attendance, we’re getting 20 to 30 naturists in the pool, which is really good at £5 pounds a head. They all seem to enjoy it,” said Ryan.
The naturist swimming session has brought some challenges for the lifeguards. “It is an interesting one. There were one or two grins but I think it’s about being professional. Each to their own, I think. That’s the main thing.”
Before the pool opens, Ryan needs to recruit new staff. “We’ll probably have a team of about 15 lifeguards,” he said, adding that the role suits locals returning from college or university for the summer. “We’re looking for lifeguards this summer, particularly students, but obviously we’re welcoming of anybody. It will be paid.”
If you attend the pool this season, you’ll be asked to complete a paper survey. It will be online too. The responses could determine whether more money is spent on making the pool a year-round facility. It is wonderful swimming on a warm summers day with the sun beating down but swimmers can’t get in the water outside the warmer months, without overhead cover.
“I think the outdoor experience makes this pool,” said Ryan. “It’s really nice early in the mornings. But then you get your rainy days of course. They are not so nice.” Apparently when it’s wet, people don’t go swimming. “It is the colder temperature that comes with rain that puts people off. It’s not great for younger children. We do welcome people to come and swim in the rain because it’s a different experience.”
Mayor Piers Brown told Tuesday’s meeting that the Council had to think of a ‘long-term vision for the asset’. By soliciting our feedback, the Town Council will be able consider whether a retractable roof is a viable option. “The retractable roof obviously has its positives and negatives. Cost is a big factor. I think more people will actually get a good vibe out of having the open air experience and enjoying that, rather than it being closed off, because there are so many pools in this area that are indoor pools,” said Ryan.
Oasis Pool will open at the end of May to coincide with the half term break and hours will be extended into the summer. “During the holiday periods, we open for a lot longer, so we open at seven in the mornings all the way through to eight o’clock at night,” said Ryan.
Contact the Town Council if you’re interested in lifeguard work.