I t’s somewhat ironic that Portsmouth is an island city surrounded by water, yet so many of its younger inhabitants are unable to swim.
Not just an irony, but an indictment.
Living so close to the sea, it’s doubly important that our young people could get to safety if they were ever to fall in. Yes, it’s fun to swim but it’s also a vital life skill. One day, being able to swim might save their lives.
Yet at Medina Primary School in Cosham, up to 70 per cent of nine and 10-year-olds are non-swimmers. At Portsdown Primary, also in Cosham, head Irene Baldry says that only about five per cent of her pupils could swim 50 metres on their front and back.
Both these schools are within walking distance of the Queen Alexandra Hospital, which boasts an indoor heated pool that would be perfect for teaching local children how to swim. But at the moment it’s a strictly private facility for NHS staff and other select groups.
So we support Portsmouth North MP Penny Mordaunt in her efforts to get this pool opened up for schools to use. She intends to write to Portsmouth Hospitals NHS Trust’s chief executive to ask for the 20m by 9m pool in the QA’s health club, the Oasis Wellness Centre, to be made available for children in the Paulsgrove and Cosham area.
The problem is that the hospital trust doesn’t seem to be very keen on the idea.
In a response which appears to be designed to dampen Ms Mordaunt’s enthusiasm, it comes up with a list of reasons why the pool cannot be opened for public use.
Apparently, it would not meet safety regulations. This includes not having lifeguards, because as a private pool there is no requirement for them. The trust also claims that it does not have the correct insurance or money to maintain the pool for public use.
But if there was a will, there could well be a way. Because opening up the pool would be a fantastic opportunity for the QA to play a part in the local community, encourage children to learn a vital skill and also enjoy the health benefits of exercise.