Hi, my name’s Sarah and I am reporting on the issues I have had with the swimming pools in Islington and Camden. I will talk about the different issues I have had as someone who uses a mobility walker and the actions I have had to take to resolve some of the problems.
The first swimming pool I will talk about is the one at the Oasis Leisure Centre in Camden. There are a number of problems at Oasis starting with accessing the building. To gain entry you have to go up a flight of steps and there is no lift. There is no ramp at the front entrance and no sign telling you that there is a ramp at their side entrance. There is also no bell outside the front that Disabled people could use to call for assistance.
This situation is made worse by the fact that the side entrance is difficult to find and it doesn’t have an automatic door, which makes it difficult for someone with mobility problems to get through. I was last there a few months ago and once I finally managed to get in the Leisure Centre I found that neither the indoor nor the outdoor swimming pool had a hoist, which meant I couldn’t get into either pool.
The staff didn’t seem to know how to use the hoist to get me out of the pool, so they gave up and hauled me out the water like a fish and everyone was staring at me.
The second pool I would like to talk about is the Cally Pool in Islington. One time I went there and the staff didn’t seem to know how to use the hoist to get me out of the pool, so they gave up and hauled me out the water like a fish and everyone was staring at me.
It made me feel really self-conscious and I became less confident about going swimming. The next time I went there I discovered that the hoist was not even working at all. Also, the pool was cold because they left the fire exit doors open which are right next door to the pool. Cold water worsens my chronic pain and causes one of my feet to go into spasm. The disabled people’s changing room is also not cleaned properly, and the shower leaks all the time. Also, the chair to sit on while having a shower does not have a back on it and it’s slippery.
The last swimming pool I’ll describe is at the Swiss Cottage leisure centre, which has many issues. Firstly, the reception staff do not provide me with a great service. One person there keeps trying to get me to switch membership and does not listen when I say I do not want to change my membership. And when I asked this person where the disabled people’s changing room was, they kept walking off.
When I finally got their attention, they told me the lock in the disabled people’s changing room next to reception was broken and that my mum should put her foot against the door while I was changing and that I should hold the door while my mum was changing.
They told me the lock in the disabled people’s changing room next to reception was broken and that my mum should put her foot against the door while I was changing.
We weren’t too happy about doing this so we asked them if they had another disabled people’s changing room. They told us there was another one on a lower floor and that they would get someone to show us; however, the person who was meant to show us kept walking off, so we got in the lift by ourselves and squeezed up against a pile of black bags of rubbish that had been left there. The next problem we faced was that the lift did not tell us what was on each floor, so we spent some time going up and down the levels.
When we eventually found the second changing room, we discovered that it was dirty. I put my concerns about the filth to one side and told staff I would need to use a hoist to get in the pool, only to be told by the duty manager that the hoist was not working and hadn’t been working for over a month.
The duty manager paid for me to go to Kentish Town Leisure Centre out of his own pocket!
I asked the duty manager if they could call up another pool to see if they had a working hoist and, if so, book me a taxi there. I said that they should pay for the taxi as their website said they had full working changing rooms and a hoist even though this was not the case. The duty manager spoke to the general manager who refused to pay for the taxi, so the duty manager paid for me to go to Kentish Town Leisure Centre out of his own pocket!
Once I got to Kentish Town my experience there was completely different. The staff were all helpful including the person booking me in, the person who helped me get in the pool and the manager, who came to speak to me and apologised for what had happened at the Swiss Cottage Leisure Centre.
The manager also made sure that he got one of his colleagues to book me into a smaller pool, which he said would be better for my complex regional pain syndrome as the water was warmer and shallower. All the staff knew how to use the hoist and they was helpful from beginning to end.
In the end though, no one got back to me, so I contacted Citizens’ Advice and finally some actions were taken!
I was still really upset about what had happened at Swiss Cottage and the other leisure centres though so when I got home, I phoned customer service to complain. They told me the general manager at Swiss Cottage should have paid for the taxi as the information on the website was misleading and incorrect. They also said they’d contact all the leisure centres about my complaints and that either the leisure centres themselves or customer service would get back to me.
In the end though, no one got back to me, so I contacted Citizens’ Advice and complained to them instead. Citizens’ Advice then contacted all the leisure centres on my behalf and finally some actions were taken!
The water in the pool is so cold it makes my toes curl up.
Cally Pool closed their fire exit doors, fixed their hoists and agreed to train all their staff in how to use the hoist. The only problems there now are that people keep stealing the shower heads from the Disabled people’s showers, the seats in the showers are still slippery and the water in the pool is so cold it makes my toes curl up.
Oasis has also made some progress. It has one working hoist in the indoor pool now. Their outdoor hoist is still not working though and accessing the building is still a problem for people with mobility impairments.
As for Swiss Cottage, the worst of the three, they never got back to Citizens’ Advice and don’t seem to be too worried about my complaints. It’s not just their lack of equipment; the majority of the staff don’t seem to have a good attitude towards me as a Disabled person.
I am glad I’ve had some good results with getting my local leisure centres to be more accessible for Disabled people but I really wish I hadn’t had to fight so hard in the first place. Going for a dip in my local pool shouldn’t be something I have to battle for.