Brio Leisure, which operates Chester's Northgate Arena, Ellesmere Port’s Sports Village and Neston Recreation Centre, has gained a quarter million pound plus backing to boost swimming.
The community interest company has been awarded £264,000 to encourage more use of the borough’s public swimming pools.
The funding is part of a £3m Sport England campaign to reverse the national decline in public swimming with the borough council one of 12 local authorities selected to take part in the ‘Swim Local’ pilot.
Sport England statistics have uncovered a 20% fall in swimming numbers over the last decade.
Brio Leisure itself quizzed more than 1,000 members of the public to discover some of the reasons behind the lower numbers.
Robb Henderson, a fitness instructor for Brio, supported the research stages of the project to determine what stopped people swimming more often. He says the responses received will be used to make swimming more appealing and accessible.
“People swim for a variety of reasons,” he suggested. “Some for health benefits or part of their fitness regime, others because it provides a fantastic family activity. There was definitely a desire for a range of tailored sessions that met these individual needs.
“Not everyone surveyed knew they had a public pool in their area so we need to do more to promote the availability of swimming facilities across West Cheshire along with more information on timetables and accessibility particularly where swimming pools are also used during the day by local schools.”
People also called for better changing and poolside facilities and the introduction of swim ‘mentors’ who could give guidance and advice on swimming styles along with the availability of more equipment that supports performance, speed and technique.
Concerns over body image were also a barrier for some.
“Both women and men across a range of age groups were bothered about how they looked in a swimsuit to others using the pool so we want to look at ways to make swimmers feel more comfortable and less intimidated,” said Robb.
“We will be helping enabling people to overcome these concerns by providing poolside hooks for towels and bathrobes”.
Brio says the focus will now be on improvements to the customer experience, the pool environment, how pools are promoted and further consultation with customers on what they want.
Managing director of Brio Leisure Elly McFahn, herself a former competitive swimmer, said the company was committed to improving the health and wellbeing of residents across Cheshire West and Chester and had already started to look at different ways to break down any barriers preventing residents from taking advantage of sports and leisure facilities.
Lisa O’Keefe at Sport England added: “Sport England is proud to be providing funding and support to Brio Leisure to help more people get active through swimming.
“A lot of research has gone into the development of the Swim Local projects to make sure we’re giving the local community what they want and need. We know swimming is one of the ways many people prefer to get active.”
She hoped people in West Cheshire would take advantage of the ‘exciting’ new swimming opportunities in the area.