As more swimming pools across the country face closure because of soaring costs, the survival story of Jubilee Pool is an incredible example of how important these facilities are – and not just in the ways you might think.
For over a decade, the much-loved swimming pool, located in the heart of Knowle, was threatened with closure. Finally, in 2022 Bristol council announced it would transfer ownership to Friends of Jubilee Pool, a charity set up by a group of locals who had raised money via community fundraising events and grants. With the help and advice of other community-run pools across England, the group took over in 2022. The celebratory mood was short lived, however, as the energy and cost of living crises bit hard and people had to rally around again to manage spiralling bills.
“When people are faced with the threat of loss of something very important to them and the community, they do step up,” said Chloe Day, volunteer grant fundraiser at the pool.
The 22-metre pool is one of only two of 14 that were built in the 1930s as part of a drive by the local authority to provide all Bristolians with public baths within a mile’s walk of home. Over 80 years later and there is a much gloomier outlook, with the BBC reporting the closure of 60 public pools across the UK between 1999 and 2022.
Today Jubilee is Bristol’s only community-run pool, and depends entirely on the dedication of its 50 volunteers, most of whom live locally.
“We’re quite a plucky bunch,” Chloe says. “We do this work on top of family and work commitments.”
Despite the acute challenges, thanks to the dedication of the local community, the pool is going strong with plans to expand current services, including a class for women of colour to learn how to swim (the pool they currently use is too shallow and the women need a deep end to improve), and help address a national shortage of swimming teachers by offering courses to train instructors.
According to a survey of 1,500 people the group conducted last year to measure the social value of the pool, the smaller size and warmer temperature makes it attractive to people with social anxiety, older people and those with chronic pain. Larger pools are more intimidating as they tend to be busier and noisier. Social contact was also hugely important, with 35% of users saying the pool was the only place where they come into contact with people outside their home on some days. This was attributed not only to social anxiety, exacerbated by Covid restrictions, but also the increased prominence of home-based working.
“Half of the people surveyed said they didn’t use the pool,” Chloe said, “ but they still supported it because they felt strongly about the loss of public services – once it’s gone you, can’t get it back.”
Part of the pool’s huge appeal is its place in local history, with several generations of locals learning to swim there.
“You can see how sociable it is when people are chatting in the slow lane, two older ladies swimming beside each other for the entire session,” Chloe continued. “Older people who learnt to swim here now teach their kids and grandchildren.”
The story of Jubilee Pool shows the vital importance of public services like this in keeping people healthy – not just through physical exercise but by bringing them together.
Jubilee Pool was one of this year’s recipients of our Megawatt Community Energy Fund. They are using the £4,000 grant to pay for a full feasibility study for a solar thermal system and to contribute towards a modern thermostat and heat exchanger to improve efficiency of heat transfer from boilers to the pool.
To support the pool visit their fundraising page; to volunteer or offer pro bono support, please contact email@example.com