Plans to close four high school swimming pools across Falkirk district have been met with disbelief and anger from people who use the facilities.
In November, Falkirk Council announced the plans to close the pools in Larbert High, Falkirk High, Grangemouth and Graeme High Schools as part of its strategic property review that will see 133 buildings close or transfer out of council ownership over the next three years.
But parents, coaches and pupils say the council has chosen the “nuclear option” before any proper consultation and argue that the loss will be huge.
Eight different swimming clubs use Larbert High School’s pool alone, offering lessons to more than 1000 people of all ages every week. That’s in addition to the 2000 school pupils who use it as part of the curriculum.
Kieran McGuckin is a former Commonwealth Games medallist who once trained in the 25 metre pool and knows what a great facility it is.
He now uses the venue to take classes with Evolution Swim School and his group alone uses it to teach 190 pupils with another 230 at Graeme High School, from tiny tots to people in their 70s.
Through Evolution, Kieran also offered free swimming lessons last summer to 45 children “who wouldn’t normally be able to get access”.
“It was our second year and we were hoping to expand on that but now that could be lost as well,” he said.
Several other classes also use the pool and many teenagers are employed to help out, gaining valuable experience and qualifications at the same time.
Rebecca Lonsdale, of Tryst Community Sports Club, said: “It’s not just a school facility – it’s a community facility. We deliver lessons to 1000 kids every week after school. It’s also the biggest school in Scotland so it would be a shame to lose it for the curriculum.”
The pool is also used for hydrotherapy by primary school pupils with severe and complex needs.
A few miles away, Falkirk High School’s swimming pool is being well used by Falkirk Otters, a competitive swimming club whose members have the silverware to prove how seriously they take the sport.
They use the pool every night of the week and say they would like even more pool time, as it has been reduced since Covid struck.
Coach and parent Aileen Mackenzie says the swimming sessions are vital to keep the teenagers busy and healthy.
“If you don’t keep kids fit and healthy, it puts added pressure on the health service and it’s under enough pressure,” she said.
But many of those affected admit that they feel like “the decision has already been made”.
Colin Fawkes, a coach with Falkirk Otters, says they are disappointed Falkirk Council went for the “nuclear option” without any discussion, such as changing how the pools are used and shared or even increasing fees.
“It’s really strange – it’s been forced through and not enough effort has been made to look at all the alternatives,” he said.
He’s also worried that the decision-makers don’t understand the sheer amount of pool time the young swimmers need to train to be competitive.
“This pool is irreplaceable,” he said.
Fifteen-year-old Mia Taylor, a member of Falkirk Otters, was so outraged about the plans to shut the pools that she is now writing her N5 essay on the topic.
Her research has made her even more convinced it’s a bad idea as she has “found out how many people it’s going to affect”.
The members of the groups were given support by Labour councillors Jack Redmond and Euan Stainbank, who heard how important the pools are to all of the groups and pledged to fight any closures.
Falkirk Council has said that with the current energy prices, it simply can’t afford to continue to pay for the school swimming pools.
It says the council is extremely unusual in having so many in the first place – and with a budget gap of more than £60 million to find, it has very little choice but to make difficult and unpopular decisions.
The final decision will be made by Falkirk Council’s education executive after the current consultation period.