Scartho Baths closure: Loss of top diving club would be felt very deeply
The closure of Scartho Baths is an emotive subject for thousands of people in the town. Many see it as a missed opportunity to create something great while the nation is riding high on the Olympic wave. Its replacement pool will be just 25m – not the Olympic-sized 50m. It will not have a diving board, which would all but rule out the chance of someone local becoming the next Tom Daley. However, it is what lies beneath that makes the issue particularly emotive for one local group, as reporter James Dunn found out by taking the plunge.
THE Grimsby and Cleethorpes British Sub-Aqua Club (BSAC) was first formed 50 years ago in 1962 and has 60 members.
Every year, it trains between 10 and 20 new divers, who take up the sport either as a hobby or with professional ambition.
These new members train in the 3.8m diving pool in Scartho Baths, which allows them to practise making regular adjustments at different depths – one of the most basic, but vital, skills for new divers – as I found out during a try dive, which the club offers new members for just £10.
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Chairman Robin Lake took me to the poolside and showed me the essential equipment: a mask; a tank; a regulator, which controls the supply of air from the tank; a buoyancy compensation device, the jacket that inflates and deflated with air from the tank, altering your depth; a weight belt; and fins.
First came the unsavoury, but necessary, exercise of spitting in the mask – so it doesn't steam up underwater – then it was straight into the pool to stumble around like a drunkard as I attempted to put on the rest of the equipment.
The club provides all this equipment – which costs about £2,500 – for new members while they learn the basics.
But, without the initial experience the club can currently provide those interested in trying out the hobby in the safety of the pool, Robin wonders if people will make such a leap of faith.
Robin said: "It's a great hobby and, after a few dives, even in the pool, most people are hooked. We provide that equipment but don't have the funds to buy proper open water gear for everyone, so they have to buy their own when they have completed the basic training.
"I worry because, without having a go, £2,500 is a lot to shell out for equipment when you're not even sure if you like diving."
But I didn't have to worry about that just yet, so I pulled my hair back, put the mask over my eyes and nose, gripped the regulator in my mouth and went under. I was quite keen to get underwater – not least because I knew the photographer was snapping away at me looking a bit silly.
Immediately, I got the impression I was a little slow on the uptake as I tried to grasp some basic gestures to communicate underwater.
Apparently, thumbs-up usually means that you're not OK and you need to go to the surface. The only person more confused than me throughout that dive was Robin, who must have wondered why I kept promising to return to the surface as I swam around joyfully.
The key to it all was to hold your nose and blow it at the same time, so your ears gradually adjust to the extra pressure at greater depth.
I didn't find it necessary until I was about four feet under but after that point, I generally needed to adjust every one or two feet – although I might have been a little overcautious.
As I got to the bottom of the pool, the surface looked a long way up, or, to use the technical term, up to ten nose-blows away. Their point was well made – without such depth you would not learn to make these regular adjustments or become accustomed to the water pressure.
After about half an hour, it was easy to see why people get addicted. I'd learned to clear my mask, take it off and put it on underwater and did a rather impressive forward roll thing (also a technical term). I was obviously getting quite good at this, despite initial setbacks with the gestures.
The world looks very different from underwater, even in a swimming pool. Looking around while submerged is very relaxing, quiet, calm, and totally immersing – even for someone like me, who many have said has an attention span so short that it borders on a medical condition. Suddenly, £2,500 looked a little more affordable.
"Most people love it once they have a go but you have to start spending money once you get on the open water," said Robin.
Robin informed me that you can get the equipment cheaper if you shop smartly. Most of the things you need can be bought second-hand and Robin said he often advises new members on what to buy and will even check the equipment once they have bought it. However, he recommended that you buy the regulator new.
The club also has some great facilities for fully-fledged members, once you have bought all the gear.
They have two 6m metal rib boats with Suzuki engines, two tractors to transport them and two compressors for members to fill their air tanks with.
As well as diving in Covenham Reservoir and the North Sea regularly, members have also been on diving trips all over the world, including the Isle Of Oban, off the coast of Scotland, the Red Sea and the Maldives.
Grimsby and Cleethorpes BSAC has members from a wide age group, starting with people in their teens, ranging to people in their late 70s. One of their members, Ian Hill, 68, of Enfield Road, joined the club at the very beginning and remembers the day that Scartho Baths opened.
"We shared the pool with the police when it first opened and even did dives for them if they were looking for something," said Ian.
However, there are also new members, such as Cameron McFarlane, 12, of Broadway, who are still doing their training – which involves learning in rooms upstairs at the swimming pool, as well as dive time.
"Diving is quite daunting at first, even in a swimming pool, and it is quite a jump to go on to open water so I'm not sure if I would have the confidence to do that without the pool training," said Cameron.
The group's current members will continue to organise dives without the local dive pool. However, it would make it nearly impossible for them to continue to train new members.
Robin said: "There are a lot of dedicated members and some of them have been here for decades. But, without new membership and young people coming through the club, we won't survive."
Personally, I have heard a lot of arguments against shutting Scartho Baths, but I've not been convinced by them.
The new pool is only 25m so will be no good for world-class swimmers, who use 50m pools – but then Scartho Baths is 33m which is arguably even less conducive to competitive swimming, and I don't remember an Olympic event being held in Grimsby.
Some argue that the location is unsuitable, but it is hardly a million miles from the town centre.
However, the Grimsby and Cleethorpes BSAC has an argument to which there is no counter. The new facility will not have a diving pool, which would mean young people will no longer being able to learn to dive locally, which is a tragic loss for the younger generation.
Grimsby's dive club may be small, but their loss would be felt.
Their argument is made even more potent by the opinions of our local MPs, Cleethorpes' Conservative MP Martin Vickers and Great Grimsby's Austin Mitchell. Vickers is a Conservative and Mitchell is Labour, but they agree on one thing: closing Scartho Baths is unpopular.
Mr Vickers said: "If they could wait a short time, there might be the chance of more funding from other sources, but they seem determined to press on quickly which prohibits that chance."
Austin, who has publicly spoken out in an effort to save Scartho Baths, said: "A new pool might seem like a good idea, but you have to carry the public on these things, and they haven't."
Try it for yourself
If you would like to book a try dive, go to Scartho Baths at 8.45pm on a Thursday to talk to Grimsby and Cleethorpes BSAC members.