Lewisham’s Olympic legacy, Greenwich’s Olympic belly-flop

You might have read The Greenwich Phantom’s damning post about the plans for Greenwich’s new swimming pool. If you haven’t, go and read it now.

Work’s finally started on the old Greenwich District Hospital site, 11 years after the NHS moved out, where the plan is to build flats, a council service centre, a library (to replace East Greenwich Library) and a swimming pool (to replace the Arches). The Arches is a grand old facility, built in the 1920s and revamped in the late 1980s, featuring a proper old swimming pool with a very deep deep end.

So it’s been popular for the youngsters of the Greenwich Swimming Club to learn how to swim competitively and dive properly, as the Phantom’s correspondent Elaine says. Unfortunately, the replacement pool will be no good for them – it’ll be 1 metre deep at both ends, and 1.5m deep in the middle, which is too shallow for the Amateur Swimming Association, which prefers 1.8m for diving.

Another Arches user, Teresa Griffith, told me: “Most races (except backstroke) start with a dive. As a trainee official for swimming galas I love seeing youngsters flinging themselves into the water and flying up and down. What is the point in building a pool where they will not be allowed to fling themselves in?

“I see them swimming Tues, Weds and Thursday nights, as well as 8am on Sunday mornings… I don’t think they will enjoy their swimming if they don’t get to practice diving when at weekends. They are asked to compete against children from other areas who may be lucky enough to get to dive in from time to time.”

So much for an Olympic legacy.

She emailed a few councillors, and opposition leader Spencer Drury took her complaints to the council’s overview and scrutiny panel last week. Apparently the problem is being “looked at” by council leader Chris Roberts, and he was told a retractable floor originally planned for the pool had been scrapped because they don’t work very well.

According to planning statements published by original developer First Base, the design of the pool was “the product of consultation with the Council and their leisure providers, the Primary Care Trust (“PCT”), the Education Department and other key stakeholders”.

Ah, those key stakeholders again. They’ve got all the answers.

Still, never mind, according to the Phantom’s post, “swimmers can learn to dive and turn elsewhere in the borough”. Well, in actual fact, they’ll be able to do that without having to trudge all the way to Eltham.

Just a couple of miles away in Lewisham, the new Glass Mill leisure centre is taking shape on Loampit Vale. You might have seen it, it’s the huge great colourful thing appearing opposite Lewisham station (along with another development of flats). It’ll replace the Ladywell Leisure Centre (to the anguish of its regular users) and will be Lewisham Council’s flagship facility.

Unlike Greenwich, Lewisham has put all the plans for the Glass Mill on its website. Plans include “a competition pool – eight lanes (17 x 25 metres) with a moveable floor at the deep end to allow additional water area for teaching”. Cuh, those pesky moveable floors which don’t work, eh?

As for diving? Well, the full details are in the Glass Mill client brief. “The hallow end is to be set at 1200 mm which is considered a safe depth for competition swimming but will not be suitable for certain teaching purposes. The deep end depth should be set at 2000mm.” Poolside diving blocks will be provided.

So, Lewisham, the non-Olympic borough, has managed to commission a swimming pool suitable for teaching kids how to dive. Olympic host borough Greenwich, meanwhile, hasn’t. Good to know the legacy’s in safe hands… at Catford town hall.

Still, there is time for Greenwich to sort this mess out, isn’t there? Or it’ll face the embarrassment of its young people heading to a neighbouring borough to learn how to swim competitively. Is that the legacy it wants?


  1. I’ve already waffled on about this at embarrassing length over at the Phantom so will try to restrain myself here.  I think this post picks out something that might be missed in the other though:  we are not talking here about competition diving with high-boards and somersaults and so on.  There is very little provision for this in the whole of the UK, and 1.8m really wouldn’t be enough for it, but that’s an argument for another day.  What’s at issue here is being able to start a swimming race in the way that swimming races are started: i.e. diving in.  Possibly from blocks, possibly from the poolside but in either case with the hope of not cracking your head open while doing it. 
    I’m not sure that I would place too much faith in retractable floors myself: like ‘boomed’ swimming pools, these things have a habit of being left in a default position (the easiest one) and then I’d guess that it would take time and cost (in water and heating) to change the configuration so it might not be done that often.  But at least in Lewisham it won’t be always impossible to dive in, unlike the planned pool in Greenwich. 

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  3. Didn’t this happen with Waterfront as well? I seem to remember it was built with competition facilities (spectator stands, space for coaches) but they made the pool with two shallow ends.

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