Discover the Community Pool at the Heart of Jesmond
Since the community rallied together to reopen Jesmond Pool & Gym in 1992, the pool's staff have made it their mission to give back to the locals around them
Jesmond Pool first opened in 1938 and was closed by the council in 1991 due to budget cuts. Not accepting the loss of such an important part of their local area, the community decided to take matters into their own hands, rallying together to keep it open. The pool has been running as a charity ever since, with the new company going on to add a gym, sauna, steam room and activity room with lottery support in 2003, while a further gym and therapy centre was added in 2015.
Despite a turbulent past, the pool, which is now run as a not-for-profit charitable trust led by a chair and board of trustees, is thriving. ‘Last year was our big 30th anniversary so we did little day functions with free activities and we had pool party for the customers, and we’ve just gone from strength to strength,’ says Scott. ‘We managed to weather the Covid lockdowns having to shut, then reopen, and operate with a reduced timetable, but we sailed the stormy seas and we haven’t looked back. It just went absolutely crazy and we’re still so busy now.’
Their gratitude to their local community for their unwavering support inspired many of Jesmond Pool & Gym’s staff to make it the success it is today. ‘Obviously it was the community that saved the pool so we’ve always been indebted to them,’ says Scott. ‘It was them that held the placards and fought for this place. There’s people that were out there chaining themselves to the fence almost and they still come in today, so we are sort of their beacon. They fought for us so I think we’ve got to try to do as much as we can for them and make them proud.’
Jesmond Pool offers everything you would expect from a community-run social enterprise pool – as well as some unique extras. ‘People think, being in Jesmond, we must be overrun with students but we’ve got such a mix of people in the area, from students to working professionals and lots of families,’ explains Scott. ‘We do swimming lessons which means we have families in all the time. We run our nifty-over-50 classes, we have aquafit sessions, we have over 60s pilates and we started a seated exercise class upstairs. The community table tennis club comes and plays during the week and we try to open up to as many groups as we can. We’ve got such a range of clientele. We like to be a community hub and use our resources as best as we can.
‘We’ve also started branching out doing live music swims on a Friday night,’ Scott continues. ‘I got the idea because I went to Butlins for a weekend with my friends and they had a soul disco in the pool. You’re just swimming around and there’s this music going which is brilliant. When I came back I said to my boss, I can DJ to see how it goes, so I put it on one night, it went really well and we got brilliant feedback.
‘Since then we’ve had a few different performers. For example we had Pete Martin who comes along playing trumpet. We’ve had Jenny Winter – she’s a local performer who came along, played the piano and did a brilliant gig. We’ve had young Lucy who’s one of our volunteers and she does Irish folk music so she did that one Friday night and it went down really well. We’re going to try to do something once a month, but so far it’s been absolutely brilliant.’
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Scott’s goal is to make sport both fun and inclusive. This isn’t a new thing, but something he’s been trying to achieve since he started working at Jesmond Pool 19 years ago. ‘I’ve always wanted to have something for everybody and make sure no-one feels like they’re not fit enough to do it,' he explains. ‘I’d only been at the pool for two years in 2006 but I said to my boss at the time we could do with a little running club here. I said I’d lead it because my background is running and I love it, so I started the Jesmond Joggers. I put a little poster in the foyer that said there’s no cost, just come along, we’ll go for a run, nobody’ll get left behind. That little poster in reception turned into 25 people turning up on the first night. That was 2006, now it’s a fully–fledged club with 175 members and we run in the North East Harrier league.
‘When I started it I didn’t want to be an elite club, that’s why we named it Jesmond Joggers. I‘d been in running clubs myself and they were very elite, the name Harriers makes you think you’ve got to be the best and I didn’t want it to be that. I wanted it to be inclusive and stick to what the values of our building are and that’s to be inclusive for everyone. So I said come along, don’t worry if you’ve never run before, and we’ve had people running from ages 17 up to 70.’
Another thing which makes Jesmond Pool stand out is the staff. ‘A lot of the trustees have been here since day one, since the reform in 1992, so they’ve been involved with the pool a long time,’ Scott says. ‘The majority of the staff that work here have also all been long serving. The duty manager Tim McGahey has been here since 1992. Donna Rumney who’s one of the other duty managers must be near on 20 years. The boss Phil Drape has been here a good 20 years as well. So we’re a tight group, we tend to keep the core team and we obviously have a good working relationship with our trustees.
‘We’ve also got that rapport where we are in the community. My wife and kids laugh because if I’m ever out in Jesmond or even on Gosforth High Street, someone will stop us to say hello and my daughter says “you must literally know everybody in Jesmond”. But that’s what it’s like. When you’ve been here a while you get to know people, you know faces and names. Our early morning swimmers have been coming for years and we all know that they’re going to be on the ramp at about 6:55 – you can set your clock by them. Carol, another one of our regulars, comes in the evening and you know that at about 18:50 she’s going to come up the ramp on her bike. I’ve been opening up this building to the same faces for nearly 19 years.’
Having gone from strength to strength, the Jesmond Pool team’s plans for the future are to keep developing. ‘Just to keep growing as a business really,’ says Scott. ‘We’ve just gone past our 30th anniversary but we’re excited to see where we are at 35 years old. We’ve just had both our gyms undergo a refurb in March and we had new Technogym equipment put in. We’ve reinvested into the gym because we want people to keep coming back and we’re also hoping it will entice a few more people to come along to join as well.’
Increased running costs are, unsurprisingly, a real concern. ‘Our bill coming October is going to be three times as dear so that’s going to be a massive hit to our budget but we’re looking to sustain the running costs with solar panels. So far we’ve resisted the temptation to put the prices up and we haven’t actually increased the prices since 2020, with no knock-on from the cost of living. We don’t want to have to turn people away or have anyone think they can’t afford to exercise. Putting the solar panels in should keep our costs down so that we won’t have to do that dreaded price increase. We’re all about keeping exercise affordable for everybody in the community, right across the board. That’s probably our statement in a nutshell.’