Lymington Swimming Club confirms it will fold amid discussions with Freedom Leisure
A NEW Forest swimming club which has run for more than 130 years has confirmed it will fold at the end of the year in a move branded “devastating” by the town mayor.
Lymington Swimming Club, which meets at the town’s health and leisure centre on Saturday evenings, made the decision to cease operating at a recent special members meeting after it was given notice to quit using the town’s leisure centre pool by the operators.
As reported in the A&T the future of at least three swimming clubs in the New Forest became uncertain after the firm which runs the district council-owned leisure centres issued them three months’ notice to quit lessons at its pools.
Freedom Leisure, which oversees the operations of sites at Lymington, New Milton, Ringwood, Applemore and Totton, said club lessons were in competition with its own Swim Academy programme.
Run by volunteers, the Lymington club was founded in 1891 after a child drowned in Lymington River.
It offers low cost lessons and bursaries to those who cannot afford to pay, and even helped to raise £40,000 to build the leisure centre.
An email to Lymington Swimming Club members confirmed its decision to fold and explained Freedom Leisure was offering to transfer them to their swim programmes at a 50% discount.
It said: “The meeting was called following the notice of termination served on the club to no longer have use of the Freedom pool from January 2024.
“The reason cited as competition to their learn to swim program.
“Due to pressure, they are reviewing the length of the notice while solutions are sought.”
It explained outgoing treasurer Rob Allison had met with Freedom Lesiure’s area manager Peter Cheeseman to seek a solution.
Options dismissed by the club included challenging the decision.
The email added: “Two of the other clubs in the Forest are fighting and a petition of support is doing the rounds on socials.
“But for us, the lack of teachers and committee support from parents has made for great challenge for over nine months already.
“The appetite to try and fight the decision at Freedom will take a strong team [and] on discussion it was felt this would be hard.”
The email explained the club hoped to negotiate the name and ethos of the club being transferred under a partnership with Freedom Leisure, with the hope it would still run its stamina nights.
When approached by the A&T a spokesperson for the club said: “We’re in discussions with Freedom [Leisure].
“We will close at Christmas in the current form, but remain hopeful that Freedom will support a route for local children to access a subsidised stamina swimming option.”
Lymington and Pennington mayor, Cllr Jack Davies, told the A&T: “The news will be devastating for generations of local residents who learned to swim with the club.”
The issue of the swimming clubs’ eviction was discussed at a meeting of the district council on Monday evening.
Cllr Davies – a Lib Dem member - asked the council’s cabinet member for community, safety and wellbeing, Cllr Dan Poole, why the clause allowing Freedom Leisure to evict the clubs after 12 months had been allowed in the contract when operations were signed over.
He added: “I challenged [Cllr Poole] on this and they wouldn’t give me a clear answer.
“If the council were not aware this was going to happen, why did they include that clause in the contract?
“The Liberal Democrats warned at the time the Conservatives decided to out-source the leisure centres that they did not do their due diligence and it’s clear now that they didn’t.
“This has cost taxpayers hundreds of thousands of pounds in a bailout and now the loss of one of our local swim clubs. Cllr Poole has no choice now but to resign.”
Cllr Caroline Rackham also raised concern at the meeting over the decision to axe swimming clubs from using the pools.
She said: “The contract for Freedom Leisure was described by the then chair of the task and finish group as 'robust ...in view of detail' and voted for by every Conservative member then present, some of whom are still here.
“What can be done to make sure the awful behaviour towards our swimming and other community clubs cannot continue or be replicated in the future?”
Cllr Poole explained clubs were “fully aware” of the 12-month clause, which he said ended in June 2022.
He added: “I am pleased [Freedom Leisure] have paused any decision on changes to the swimming club bookings and I look forward to working with Freedom Leisure to ensure the needs of all swim club members are catered for under an new or alternative provision.”
Freedom Leisure declined to comment.