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Why children living near canals must learn to swim, St George’s campaigners warn Tower Hamlets Council

PUBLISHED: 17:00 19 November 2020 | UPDATED: 18:50 19 November 2020

St George's Olympic-standard swimming pool now shut where children once learned to swim. Picture: Jonathan Rioja/Google

St George's Olympic-standard swimming pool now shut where children once learned to swim. Picture: Jonathan Rioja/Google

Jonathan Rioja/Google

A people’s campaign has been launched to get St George’s Olympic-standard swimming pools reopened after the Covid crisis.

Will it ever reopen? St George's leisure centre in The Highway. Picture: GoogleWill it ever reopen? St George's leisure centre in The Highway. Picture: Google

A petition by Friends of St George’s was presented to Tower Hamlets Council last night calling for the reopening so that children can learn to swim while growing up in an area like the East End “where there are so many canals, docks and rivers”.

It urges its refurbishment with cash from outside bodies such as Sport England, the GLA or even crowdfunding if the council doesn’t have the means.

The town hall can’t splash out to reopen the swimming pool because it doesn’t have the cash, it emerged.

The leisure centre in The Highway—just walking distance from Wapping, Shadwell and Whitechapel—was shut when the Covid emergency forced public places to close their doors.

Cllr Denise Jones...  Cllr Denise Jones... "Let's raise funds for St George's from sports organisations and anyone else we can think of." Picture: Mike Brooke (inset) and Jonathan Rioja/Google

Yet it failed to reopen when restrictions were temporarily relaxed in the summer.

The campaigners won sympathy from council members who supported the idea of volunteers and charities to get the pools open again.

Cllr Denise Jones who represents Wapping and St Katharine’s asked them if they would “join us to raise funds from national sports organisations, trusts and foundations and anyone else we can think of”.

She added: “It needs investment, but council budgets are stretched at the moment.”

Enjoying facilities when they were open at St George's. Picture: Vytautas Rudy/GoogleEnjoying facilities when they were open at St George's. Picture: Vytautas Rudy/Google

Cll Rabina Khan, representing Shadwell, stressed that it was important to keep St George’s open in the wake of the Covid crisis.

But she urged: “The council should investigate options before seeking charitable funds, as it’s the authority’s responsibility first and foremost.”

Primary schools have a statutory duty to ensure children can swim 25 metres, the petition points out, “especially important where there are so many canals, docks and rivers”.

It adds: “Closure for too long will also have adverse affect on the health of people with disabilities and the elderly who can’t use cycles or walk long distances, but can exercise with swimming.”

Fundraising and volunteers could be only way to get St George's reopened, Tower Hamlets Council is told. Picture: Smith/GoogleFundraising and volunteers could be only way to get St George's reopened, Tower Hamlets Council is told. Picture: Smith/Google

Travelling to Bethnal Green’s York Hall or Mile End swimming pools from Wapping and Shadwell adds transport costs to journeys that would otherwise be within walking distance to St George’s, it stresses, while adding: “Schools say they would find transport financially prohibitive and time-consuming, given traffic congestion and the pandemic discouraging public transport.”

An online petition with 1,550 signatures so far says low-income families depend on St George’s for children to learn to swim. It runs until November 24.


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