Drunken bathers, naturist swimmers and escaped goldfish in the water… just some of the memories of 50 years of fun at Spenborough Pool, which has now closed. Tony Earnshaw reports.
When it opened in 1969 Spenborough Pool was considered the crème de la crème – a splendid new facility to usher local sport and leisure into the 1970s.
Fifty years on and the much-loved complex, on Bradford Road in Liversedge, is to be demolished to make way for a £15m new build that reflects the 21st century.
The forthcoming Spen Valley Leisure Centre is the first major leisure infrastructure in the north of Kirklees for decades.
It is due to open in September 2021.
The council’s Strategic Planning Committee gave the go-ahead to the project almost a year after the proposal was signed off by senior councillors.
For long-serving pool staff it’s a time of change tinged with sadness. Yet the overwhelming feeling is of pride for a job well done combined with memories – some dramatic, some funny – of time spent building a genuine community.
Two days before the 33m-long pool closed to the public staff gathered to look back over the years. For lifeguards David Atkinson and Sue Lane that means a combined service of 75 years.
Customer advisor Janet Barraclough jokily refers to herself as “the new poolie” even though she’s been on site for almost a quarter of a century.
Officially opened by the Duchess of Kent, Spenborough Pool – or Spenborough Baths to some – became a magnet for those used to cramped and old-fashioned facilities.
“It was quite a big thing back in the day,” recalls David, who joined the staff in 1979 aged just 16.
“The old baths had cubicles at the side of the pool. That’s how it was. When they were pulled down to make this it was the crème de la crème.”
David, 56, learned to swim at Spenborough “as a kiddie.” He arrived as a locker room attendant – “the only job at the time” – and decided to stick it out.
Soon he was teaching swimming as an instructor. Like colleagues he worked as a supervisor, in the sauna and at the track.
“I like people and I enjoy the job so I just did everything. Everybody mucked in. You did it all.”
His comments are echoed by colleague Sue, 51.
“My grandmother used to bring me here every week. She taught me to swim. I joined Dewsbury Dolphins Swimming Club. I enjoyed that so much that I joined BOK (Borough of Kirklees, now the Swimming Academy). My love of swimming began at Spenborough Baths.”
Janet, 61, recalls walking all the way from her home in Mirfield as a ten-year-old in order to swim at Spenborough.
“You could come for the day then, turn up at 9am and leave at 5pm. We’d have some chips and sauce, go back in and then go home.”
All three point to the “family feel” of Spenborough as part of its attraction. They remember queues of people “right out along the bridge to the bus stop” on Bradford Road, waiting patiently to come in.
Invariably there have been moments that stick in the mind, some dramatic, some less so.
“We’ve never had a proper drama,” says David.
“I have done four resuscitations. And people have had epileptic fits in the pool. Some people tell us that they have health issues. Some don’t.”
Adds Sue: “We do staff training every month but things do come out of the blue. I’ve been here 34 years and I’ve only ever done two rescues.”
Says David: “Some stuff that people do is unbelievable. A guy had been to the pub. He was with his mates. He stripped off – naked – on the balcony and jumped straight into the water.
We had to get the police to get him out.
“On another occasion we had a guy who brought in a goldfish in his pants. It was inside a little bag. He got in the pool and let it out and the fish was off.
“We caught it but the chlorine in the pool was no good for it and so sadly it didn’t last.”
Sue recalls: “On a handful of times the pool was hired by a group of naturists. We had to black out the windows with Windowlene to smear the glass. You have to have a sense of humour.”
David laughs: “I had to life guard it. I wasn’t naked, though. We had a choice.”
Centre manager Amy Andrews interjects.
“Just to point out that we don’t do that anymore,” she smiles. “It won’t be a part of the new centre.”
The demolition of Spenborough Pool, which closed on August 31, is expected to take until February 2020 to complete. The new centre will have an eight-lane 25m pool as well as a secondary activity pool with an adjustable floor making it shallow for children and deeper for adults.
All facilities – a 600sqm gym, exercise studios and changing rooms as well as the pools – will be under one roof.
The “sizeable” staff of 40 is likely to become a smaller team. For some, such as David and Sue, it will mean looking for new roles as the Spen Valley Leisure Centre is built.
And whilst there is sadness and a sense of closure, there is recognition that all good things come to an end.
“It’s an old building and it’s past its prime,” says David. “The new building is what the community deserves.”
Adds Sue: “Although a new building is lovely it won’t be the same without the staff. My son Josh works here now so he is carrying on the Lane name.”
And the final word comes from Janet: “There’s not many people that can say that they have had total job satisfaction.
“We pride ourselves on offering the best service that we can. We’ve done that all these years.
“People have been coming in saying that they want to have their last swim. One said, ‘I want to be the last one in.’ It’s the end of an era.”