A partnership between ASA and British Gas

Getting started

Before you pour lots of time and money into your project, the first thing you should do is check the status of your pool.

Generally the most common problems facing a pool are:

  • A condition survey commissioned by the owner has identified key flaws in an ageing building
  • The local authority or owner considers that the current pool is no longer appropriate to the demands and size of the community
  • Pools that need to be upgraded no longer satisfy building regulations

This leaves many pool owners with some difficult choices:

  • Spend money and improve the existing pool
  • If it is a local authority pool, to transfer a pool to the private or third (community) sector
  • Rationalise a number of pools within an area. This could mean closing some to open a brand new facility, or the land may be a valuable asset and the council may want to re-use it or sell it for development
  • Close a pool

If you believe your project is attainable and want to save a pool from closure, or are looking for useful information on how to open and run a new pool, you'll find everything you need to get started here. Simply choose the route which best describes your situation, and we'll give you a step-by-step guide and helpful downloads.

Advice and guidance

Before you start, you may also contact the ASA Facilities Department for advice and guidance. This will also help you decide if and what action is appropriate.

Email facilities@swimming.org.

Pool threatened with closure

Step 1 - Building your case

The first step is to understand all the details that underpin the decision to close or transfer the pool. Building good working relationships with the current owner and operator cannot be overstated.

Now more than ever, there is every opportunity for you to become involved in shaping the future of a pool. But it is important to make sure that you understand how local authorities work and how best to connect with them.

There is now a requirement on local authorities called 'duty to involve'. This encourages local authorities to help people get involved and become more active citizens or volunteers. Which is great for swimming pools that could be run as voluntary or community enterprises.

You might want to try getting in touch with someone high profile. Often you will have some councillors who are more supportive than others and those who have responsibilities that cover leisure and swimming.

Make your views known in writing to the local authority, MP or Local Government Ombudsman, or verbally at public meetings, stakeholder consultations or by encouraging one of the representatives to become an elected member of the local authority. And don't forget to establish good relationships with the local media too.

Step 2 - Making your views known

Now more than ever, there is every opportunity for you to become involved in shaping the future of a pool. But it is important to make sure that you understand how local authorities work and how best to connect with them.

There is now a requirement on local authorities called 'duty to involve'. This encourages local authorities to help people get involved and become more active citizens or volunteers. This is great for swimming pools that could be run as voluntary or community enterprises.

You might want to try getting in touch with someone high profile. Often, you will have some councillors who are more supportive than others, and those who have responsibilities that cover leisure and swimming.

Make your views known in writing to the local authority, MP or Local Government Ombudsman, or verbally at public meetings, stakeholder consultations or by encouraging one of the representatives to become an elected member of the local authority. And don't forget to establish good relationships with the local media too.

Step 3 - Planning and consultation

As well as contacting your councillor and the local media, there are also other key influencers who you should try to build a relationship with. In the instance of a school pool, the governors and PTA are important contacts as these are the decision makers and influencers. But to do so, you first need to work out what swimming has to offer the community.

The next step is to decide who you want to influence. Try to focus your energies on those people who can affect local decision-making. The main point of contact within a local authority and the starting point for discussions is normally the leisure director or equivalent manager in that directorate.

We've put together a document in the toolbox to help you identify important opinion formers, find a high profile backer, as well as link with Primary Care Trusts and the medical profession.

Step 4 - Transferring assets

The decision to transfer an asset will normally be made on the advice of the corporate asset management group and would be agreed by a cabinet group within a local authority.

There are a number of ways in which the transfer can be made. In the case of a swimming pool, it is often better for the transfer to consist of a long lease or freehold. This makes it easier to take into account projected running costs as well as the whole life cycle costs of the pool.

The process

Before a local authority can consider transferring an asset, there are three important components for taking plans for new ownership of a threatened pool to the next stage. There needs to be:

  1. An evidence and needs analysis which shows that there is a need for retaining a pool.
  2. A condition survey which demonstrates that the building will be viable over the coming years.
  3. A business plan which demonstrates its financial viability over these years.

Working on planning applications

At the end of the asset transfer, it may be necessary for the community group or organisation to be involved in making a planning application either with the local authority or on its own.

Step 5 - Keeping your pool open

Where the future of a pool is under consideration, one of the biggest challenges is in keeping the pool open during the campaign process. But there are lots of advantages in doing so.

For instance, even if you can't staff the pool, keeping the water in can often be a cheaper option in the long run. Once a pool is drained of water, other problems in relation to the condition of the tank and tiling are likely to increase. So it's worth engaging in a dialogue with the pool owner at an early stage to determine:

  • How the pool can be kept open during the interim period before a decision is made
  • What funds are likely to be available over this period
  • Long term, whether the pool owner is looking to fall back on its reserves to maintain its pool stock or whether it is divesting a number of pools and how this will impact on your pool

The key challenge is to make it difficult for the existing owner to close it simply on the grounds that it is too difficult to keep it running.

For further information and guidance documents please visit the pool watch toolbox.

Upgrading your pool

Step 1 - Making your views known

You should decide what you and your campaign group stands for, what your objectives are, and if they are feasible. It's often difficult to make a case on your own, so creating an experienced team to help is a great idea.

The increased use of the Internet, blogs and social networking sites mean that the public can have a say in what goes on in pools. But if you want to be able to influence decisions, you need to have:

  • A strong case
  • The best team to make that case
  • The information to make the case
  • The ability to go about it in a considered way
  • A strategic rather than a tactical overview of the future for pools in your local area

A well conducted campaign which targets key decision makers and starts with a written plan is likely to be more successful. Try to act at an early stage so that you can influence outcomes before a decision is finalised. If a pool is closed and lies empty it is extremely difficult to bring it back into use.

Step 2 - Planning and consultation

Now more than ever, there is every opportunity for you to become involved in shaping the future of a pool. But it is important to make sure that you understand how local authorities and schools work and how best to connect with them.

There is now a requirement on local authorities called 'duty to involve'. This encourages local authorities to help people get involved and become more active citizens or volunteers. This is great for swimming pools that could be run as voluntary or community enterprises.

Decisions within schools are made by the PTA and the board of govenrors. Contact must be made with these representatives to take forward.

You might want to try getting in touch with someone high profile. Often, you will have some councillors who are more supportive than others, and those who have responsibilities that cover leisure and swimming.

Make your views known in writing to the local authority, MP or Local Government Ombudsman, or verbally at public meetings, stakeholder consultations or by encouraging one of the representatives to become an elected member of the local authority. And don't forget to establish good relationships with the local media too.

Step 3 - Engaging the right people

As well as contacting your councillor and the local media, there are also other key influencers who you should try to build a relationship with. But to do so, you first need to work out what swimming has to offer the community.

The next step is to decide who you want to influence. Try to focus your energies on those people who can affect local decision making. The main point of contact within a local authority and the starting point for discussions is normally the leisure director or equivalent manager in that directorate.

We've put together a document in the toolbox to help you identify important opinion formers, find a high profile backer, as well as link with Primary Care Trusts and the medical profession.

Step 4 - Evidence and needs analysis

One thing to remember is that you are not just looking to keep the pool running for the immediate future. You need to be more strategic and base your case on a projection of many years of use.

If upgrading your pool involves the transfer of an asset, your local authority will need to consider three important components for taking plans for new ownership to the next stage. There needs to be:

  1. An evidence and needs analysis which shows that there is a need for retaining a pool.
  2. A condition survey which demonstrates that the building will be viable over the coming years.
  3. A business plan which demonstrates its financial viability over these years.

We've pulled together some key information in the toolbox to help you carry out a condition survey and create a business plan to show how the pool is going to make money and be financially sound in the future.

Step 5 - Keeping your pool open

Where the future of a pool is under consideration, one of the biggest challenges is in keeping the pool open during the campaign process. But there are lots of advantages in doing so.

For instance, even if you can't staff the pool, keeping the water in can often be a cheaper option in the long run. Once a pool is drained of water, other problems in relation to the condition of the tank and tiling are likely to increase. So it's worth engaging in a dialogue with the pool owner at an early stage to determine:

  • How the pool can be kept open during the interim period before a decision is made
  • What funds are likely to be available over this period
  • Long term, whether the pool owner is seeking to fall back on its reserves to maintain its pool stock or whether it is divesting a number of pools and how this will impact on your pool

The key challenge is to make it difficult for the existing owner to close it simply on the grounds that it is too difficult to keeping it running.

For further information and guidance documents please visit the pool watch toolbox.

Running a pool

Step 1 - Open the discussion

Wanting to keep a pool open is one thing, but to take your campaign a realistic step forward, you have to find an operator you can recommend as your designated replacement at the pool. This could be an established operator or a group with the necessary skills to take the task on themselves.

Your proposal should then go through the correct channels, which means the first person you contact is the head of leisure services in the Local Authority or equivalent in schools sector such as the head, PTA or Governors. It's also wise to copy in the council's chief executive and the elected Leader of the council, ensuring that their copies arrive about a week after the initial approach. For schools copy in the director for education for the LA or if an academy then go to the central government office of Department for Education.

The decision to transfer the facility to a pool saviour can be a political or school governing body decision and although initial meetings may only be with council officers, the elected administration will want to be closely informed and will make the final decision.

Running a pool

Whether you want to run a pool as a trust or as a commercial operator, you'll need a combination of vision, enthusiasm, finance, management skills and experience of running pools.

If you're part of a trust, then you can find some useful information in the toolbox to help you with the everyday running of the pool.

For commercial operators, we've put together some key information in the toolbox for you to consider over the next steps.

Step 2 - Establish your role

Traditionally swimming has been delivered over pre-set hours to the public by publicly owned swimming pools. School pools generally protect curriculum swimming time and may offer pre booked group bookings after school hours. However, these models have started to change and pools have begun to be run and/or owned by private operators. Local authorities and schools are often happy to support these private ventures if it offers a public service that they would otherwise be unable to provide, as long as their interests are catered for within the programme and agreement.

As a private operator, you can become involved for a number of reasons such as:

  • Bringing expertise to an existing arrangement
  • As a funding partner
  • As a partner which would carry sufficient weight to bring in other funders
  • As a specialist service provider that assists with the provision of a certain part of the overall programmes
  • As someone who can provide a solution to a certain part of the business

Determining what you stand for

Private health clubs are generally very clear about the message they give. They stand for improvements in health and lifestyle for individuals in a membership environment and, of course, health clubs will often have a pool facility.

Step 3 - Ownership structure

A number of typical company ownership structures can be used and for a privately-owned pool, the most common is a private limited company.

A second form is that of a partnership in which two or more people share the profits, risks, costs and responsibilities of the business. Whilst the business can continue, the partnership has to be dissolved if one of the partners resigns, dies or goes bankrupt. The partners do not enjoy any protection if the business fails.

A third form is that of a limited liability partnership. The difference between this and that of a partnership is that liability is limited to the amount of money that each individual has invested in the business and/or to any personal guarantees they have made to the business.

Other forms of business such as franchising have so far proved not to be applicable to swimming, although running a pool as a sole trader might suit an individual entrepreneur.

For further information and guidance documents please visit the pool watch toolbox.

New pool

Step 1 - Making your views known

First of all, you need to check with the ASA's facilities department for plans on new pools in your area. Now more than ever, there is every opportunity for you to become involved in shaping the future of a pool, whether it is opening a new one from scratch, or bringing an old one back to life. But it is important to make sure that you understand how local authorities work and how best to connect with them.

There is now a requirement on local authorities called 'duty to involves'. This encourages local authorities to help people get involved and become more active citizens or volunteers. Which is great for swimming pools that could be run as voluntary or community enterprises.

You might want to try getting in touch with someone high profile. Often you will have some councillors who are more supportive than others, and those who have responsibilities that cover leisure and swimming.

Make your views known in writing to the local authority, MP or Local Government Ombudsman, or verbally at public meetings, stakeholder consultations or by encouraging one of the representatives to become an elected member of the local authority. And don't forget to establish good relationships with the local media too.

Step 2 - Planning and consultation

Bringing together a group of like-minded individuals is often an easy task, but forming a working body that remains committed to the task is more difficult. So you should make sure that you have the right mix of professionalism and passion to help open your new pool.

In addition, you also need to take into account the subsequent running of the pool, and part of the challenge is to decide what the objectives and vision of the new business are. One of the best places to start is to learn from others by checking out our case studies.

In the case of pools being transferred from local authority ownership, it is likely that either the pool is running at a considerable loss or that it no longer makes strategic sense to run the pool. So you need to think: 'How can we run this pool so that it either makes money or breaks even?'

There are many ways of addressing the issues but the key factor is to make sure that you differentiate the pool from others in the area either by what it offers or through the prices you charge.

For instance, the high cost of the pool could be offset by the introduction of a fitness suite or spa facility where membership can be charged. Or you could create the pool as a teaching school, and run swimming clubs in the evenings.

Step 3 - Engaging the right people

As well as contacting your councillor / board of governors and the local media, there are also other key influencers who you should try to build a relationship with. To do so, you first need to work out what swimming has to offer the community.

The next step is to decide who you want to influence. Try to focus your energies on those people who can affect local decision making. The main point of contact within a local authority and the starting point for discussions is normally the leisure director or equivalent manager in that directorate.

We've put together a document in the toolbox to help you identify important opinion formers, find a high profile backer, as well as link with Primary Care Trusts and the medical profession.

Step 4 - Evidence and needs analysis

One thing to remember is that you are not just looking to open and run a pool for the immediate future. You need to be more strategic and base your case on a projection of many years of use.

If opening your pool involves the transfer of an asset, your local authority will need to consider three important components for taking plans for new ownership to the next stage. There needs to be:

  1. An evidence and needs analysis which shows that there is a need for retaining a pool.
  2. A condition survey which demonstrates that the building will be viable over the coming years.
  3. A business plan which demonstrates its financial viability over these years.

We've pulled together some key information in the toolbox to help you carry out a condition survey and create a business plan to show how the pool is going to make money and be financially sound in the future.

For further information and guidance documents please visit the pool watch toolbox.