“The new leisure centre on Clapham Manor Street has just opened its doors – and it’s twice as big as the old one!”
I finally got the chance to have a swim at the new Clapham Leisure Centre this weekend. My daughter had recently been saying that she wanted to go swimming again – she’s 2.5 years old – and rather than going to Tooting Lido (which would definitely be a tad too cold for her) I thought we would see what GLL’s new pool had to offer.
The actual building looks like one of those massive depots you rent space from when you are either moving home, or when you current one is bulging at the seams. Descriptions of it looking like a ‘multistory car park’ or that it is a ‘monstrosity’ are not far off the mark. Never mind, what about inside?
O.K. it was Sunday, and you would expect it to busy, but the queue was massive and even before we had got to the till we were told that we wouldn’t be able to use the kids pool. Having not yet been to the centre I didn’t even know there was a kid’s pool, but I felt short-changed anyway.
Having handed over £5.65 for both of us (What ever happened to free swimming for all Lambeth Council? What happened to your pre election pledge?), we wandered through the generic reception area, past a viewing window to the kids pool I was told I wasn’t going to be able to swim in, and through to the ‘village style’ changing rooms. Compared to the old Clapham Leisure Centre changing area with its complete lack of privacy, poorly plumbed communal shower and fetid smelling toilets, these are great.
Through to the pool. Apparently size isn’t everything. It doesn’t matter what anyone says, but this is not true. The old pool was a pre metric 33 yards, whereas the new pool has been reduced to the standard 25 metres. I am sure most people wont notice the difference, but that was a wonderful quirk of the old place. It is however wider, but the lanes are narrower. I noticed a few people bumping into each other as they turned after a length as there is hardly any room to pass. Shame.
Anyway, a swim in the ‘big’ pool would have to wait. I spotted a couple of adults with babes in arms leaving the baby pool. I grabbed my chance. To be fair, compared to the old kids pool – which was so dark and dingy that I would never have let my daughter near it – the new version is a wonderful surprise.
Allowing only 30 people in at a time makes absolute sense as it gives first swimmers the space to try a few things out, accommodates various inflatable toys, a few floats here and there gave my daughter something to focus on. She loved it. Despite not being in a pool for some time, she was splashing around, kicking her legs, waving to my wife who was watching. When I asked her if she was cold, or if she felt she had swum enough: ‘No daddy. More. More.’ I could not have asked for more.
When we did eventually get out of the kids pool I went for a swim in the big pool as my wife dressed our daughter. Firstly I could not dive in as the depth has been reduced (although I am led to believe that the depth is variable for some reason) the lanes are painfully thin and it does make a difference swimming shorter lengths. The cavernous structure it is housed in has no character, it is all a bit soulless.
It feels a shame that so many swimming pools have been lovingly restored to their former glory (see the Marshall Street baths), retaining their character, staying true to past while looking to the future with new facilities, climbing walls etcetera, yet Clapham Leisure Centre has got rid of something wonderful and replaced it with something mediocre. Never mind, I will get my swimming kicks somewhere else, but as long as my daughter enjoys it at the new Clapham Leisure kids pool I will go every weekend. Damn it.