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Cost-of-living crisis leaves Aberdeen swimmers ‘shivering and desperate’

With energy costs for swimming pools up by £700 million over the last two years, will more pools lower the thermostat for relief? Image: Kenny Elrick/DC Thomson
With energy costs for swimming pools up by £700 million over the last two years, will more pools lower the thermostat for relief? Image: Kenny Elrick/DC Thomson

The cost-of-living crisis has landed Aberdeen leisure bosses in hot water over their pool temperatures.

Or slightly colder water, as the case may be.

Parents in Aberdeen have noticed more shaking shoulders and blue lips as their children wrap up swimming lessons. They’re complaining that water temperatures at Aberdeen Sports Village (ASV) pools are too low for safety and comfort.

And even though everyone will react to temperatures differently, a spokeswoman for ASV said that it’s not all in their heads: ASV has in fact lowered the temperature in both its 50-metre and 25-metre pools by 0.5C this year.

That puts ASV’s pools at 27.5C and 29C, respectively. The move is meant to offset rising energy costs that are threatening services at pools and leisure centres across the UK.

Recommendations for pool temperatures vary based on purpose and the age of swimmers. Most standards call for 27-28C for training and competition pools, and 29C for pools used for lessons and recreation.

But parents have concerns about the drop in temperature. They’re saying that their children have noticed a difference and are shivering at the end of swimming lessons.

And with energy costs for swimming pools up by £700 million over the last two years in the UK, will more pools start turning to the thermostat for relief?

‘Desperate’ for a warm shower

ASV said the temperatures are still within industry standard guidance, and that only the 29C, 25-metre pool is used for swimming lessons.

Pool management alerted members about the temperature change back in December. They said it is one of the ways that ASV is hoping to offset rising energy costs. The new temperatures are still within recommended guidelines.

Even if the actual change in temperature sounds negligible, one Aberdeen mother said that her son – who previously ‘loved’ swimming – now has to be dragged to lessons.

“My son goes every week and I’ve had to invest in a thermal wetsuit. He’s quite a hardy kid, rarely complains about the cold. He comes out shivering and desperate for a warm shower. I have to encourage him to go now, when he used to love swimming lessons.

“It’s such an important, not to mention life-saving skill. I wouldn’t want to learn to swim in cold water, and there seems to be an attitude that it isn’t too bad from some of the staff.

“If that’s the case, why do the majority of children leave the water looking freezing?”

High demand, low temperatures at Aberdeen pools

And she added that the size of classes and demand on lessons means a lot more downtime in and around the pool.

“We pay around £25 each month and were on a long waiting list for the lessons in the first place. There are a great many rules which we dutifully follow. But I resent paying that amount for my child to be cold for half an hour.

“The kids aren’t moving about all the time either, and the class size has grown for the lessons recently. So each child must wait their turn for swimming across the pool with the instructor etc., and my own child just looks miserable.”

A spokeswoman for ASV said that the high demand for important swimming lessons shouldn’t impact the experience.

“The lessons are busy, the parent is correct, it is such an important life skill and our lessons are very popular and known for the quality of their delivery, as such, they fill up fast and are in demand.

“Our classes have a maximum capacity, however, suitable for that age group and we aim to ensure we can accommodate as many children for lessons, especially with local pools closing.

“However with regards to pool temperatures, I would like to reassure parents that the 25-metre teaching pool is maintained at 29 degrees and has historically sat between 29 and 29.5 degrees which are within the parameters of industry standards for teaching children to swim.”

ASV couldn’t say exactly how much money is being saved by lowering the temperature. The spokeswoman said that pool temperatures are just one part of a larger attempt to lower energy costs and keep services viable.

Without important support from the Government, leisure centre operators are left to find their own ways to cut costs.

‘Too distraught to continue’

ASV isn’t the only pool in Aberdeen where parents have noticed problems with the temperature.

Up until last week, Becky Passell had attended Get active @ Northfield for her child’s swimming lessons. But she said that repeated bad experiences with cold left her son too distraught to continue.

The pool at Get active @ Northfield in the process of redevelopment last year. Image: Kami Thomson/DC Thomson.

“We previously went to the leisure centre where my youngest thoroughly enjoyed his lessons. We started at Northfield when the new pool opened. I bought my son a wetsuit and started taking multiple towels and even a hot water bottle to warm him up afterwards but in the end it wasn’t enough.

“We decided to try back once more last week. But again it was so cold my little boy clung to me, shivered and when he started crying we left.

“It was only 15 minutes into his 30-minute lesson. His lips had a tinge of blue and I was told that the current temperatures are 27-29C to suit all swimmers.”

29C is the recommended temperature

David Selkirk, director of community leisure operations at Sport Aberdeen, which runs the pool and gym facilities at Northfield, said that the recommended temperatures are 28 C for competitive swimming and training and 29 C for recreational pools.

Those standards are set by the Pool Water Treatment Advisory Group (PWTAG).

But, he said, there had been a recent issue with the heating system that caused air temperatures to drop and is likely affecting swimmers.

“Engineers from the contractor that installed the air handling were on site yesterday (January 17), resolved the issue and we continue to monitor this.

“The air temperature in the pool changing rooms is currently cooler than anticipated and we have requested the contractor who undertook the fit out to resolve this as a priority.

“As a charity, we place customers at the heart of our services and strive to deliver excellence in all that we do.

He added that members are welcome to voice complaints to management on site or to contact Sport Aberdeen with any concerns.

Sport Aberdeen sets the Northfield pool at 29.5C, just above the temperatures at ASV.

For comparison, High Life Highland, the charity in charge of leisure centres across Highland Council, sets pool temperatures at 29C.

Part of a bigger problem?

The reason behind some of the cooler temperatures at ASV and other locations could be the knock-on effect of a larger problem.

After an announcement on January 9 that leisure centres wouldn’t be included in a UK Government investment scheme, swimming advocates called attention to the plight of local swimming pools.

Energy costs at UK swimming pools and leisure centres have increased from £500 million to £1.2 billion since 2022, according to Scottish Swimming.

A UK-wide campaign to “Save Our Pools” kicked off this month. Scottish Swimming chief executive officer Euan Lowe said pools need support.

They offer health and social benefits, and without them there could be even more pressure on other services such as the NHS, he said.

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