Sunday, 30 April 2017

Mad About the Buoy...

I went for my regular Sunday morning swim today. We have a lovely new leisure centre, which is well-used and inviting, with two pools (something of a luxury in this day and age). Today, owing to some staffing issues, the swimming lessons which usually take place in the second pool had been moved into the main one, with half of it roped off for general use. This made lane swimming a bit tricky for the Desperate Old Codgers like myself - I can keep up a slow and steady pace, but am easily sunk by an over-eager youngster suddenly lurching in front of me or splashing me unexpectedly. Still, no-one begrudges children their swimming lessons - it's a vital skill which will become ever more important as ocean levels rise....

As I was plodding along like an out of condition dugong I started to reminisce about my own swimming lessons. As I recall, my primary school took us every week, on foot, to the local municipal pool. Initially, this was the old Maidstone Baths, apparently the first municipal baths in the country (we also had the first municipal theatre, which as the theatre manager once said was ironic, as "the town has never been known for either its cleanliness or its culture"). 

I can't remember how young we were when lessons started, but it was certainly pre-decimalisation, because I recall taking a threepenny bit with me every week. Later, we moved to the brand new pool built in the early 1970s, which had a main pool, learners' pool and diving pool. A council-built and -run facility. A Tory council, no less. These lessons continued every week up to the end of what is now Year 6. 

Every week. For six years.

Now, our kids get one year's school swimming, to which they're bussed (a sizeable chunk out of the school budget). So if you're not fortunate enough to become a strong swimmer in the course of the year you probably won't get any better.

The only alternative is for your parents to fork out for lessons from the company that runs the leisure centre for the council - "from £16.50 a month" isn't easily found when money's tight, so inevitably, the poorest and "just about managing" will lose out again.

To be fair, Manchester City Council offers free swimming to the under 16s during school holidays but it's still no substitute for regular supervised tuition over a number of years to produce strong, safe swimmers.

Increasingly I'm feeling that if I wasn't fortunate enough to be part of the baby boomer generation at least I benefited from a childhood where the welfare state and civic provision was embedded in our post-war culture and made us a progressive nation. All that has now been stripped away by the cult of individualism that has marked the last 35 years. I grew up in an era when even Tory governments saw the merit in public provision. Successive governments since 1979 have outsourced everything of value to us as communities and then we wonder why communities have given up on politics.

I wonder what on earth we could do to start rectifying that....on June 8th?


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