We turned derelict pool from an eyesore into the thriving heart of village life

28 September 2018 | Wales

Lee Gardens pool

Villagers joined forces to renovate and reopen swimming pool after it was forced to close.

The people of Penrhewceiber had proudly enjoyed their open-air swimming pool for more than half a century, since it was built in the 1950s with money raised by local miners. So when it was forced to close in 2013, rather than let it fall into disrepair in the heart of their village, they decided to take action.

Teacher Diane Locke called a public meeting to ask villagers to come together to bring Lee Gardens Pool back to life.

Today, thanks to an army of volunteers and a financial boost from local businesses, the pool is the thriving heart and social meeting point of the village, located in the Cynon Valley.

And proving that when people help people, it’s a good thing for all of us, it is even helping young people in the village find employment by providing professional lifeguard training.

Diane, 60, said: “After the pool was closed it looked so miserable, decrepit buildings, rusty railings and all overgrown with weeds. It is on the main road in the middle of the village and you could feel people’s aspirations drifting away.

“We decided to get together and bring it back to life. It was amazing to see so many people from the village volunteering their time and services.

“Today the pool is used more than it ever was. We had almost 6,000 visitors last year, and not just local people. Groups put on activities for children, and older people come for tea and a chat. And we still have 93 volunteers on our books.”

The pool, which reopened in August 2016, now operates every summer, staffed by volunteers, and is the only public facility in the village, attracting people of all ages.

Last Christmas they also turned it into an ice rink for the weekend with Christmas decorations and other festive celebrations.

And during the summer holidays they run a ‘fit and fed project’, combating holiday hunger by providing breakfast and lunch for children who normally rely on free school meals.

The pool, which is run by a committee of ten volunteers, also runs lifeguard lessons, with many young people going on to find jobs at council-run swimming pools in the region.

One is Declan Locke, 21, who is now working as a pool attendant for Rhondda Cynon Taf county council after completing the lifeguard training course.

He said: “The pool has been a massive help to me. Before, I didn’t know what to do with my life and it is difficult for young people to find jobs around here.

“When the project reopened I volunteered to help with what was needed, then this opportunity came up.

“Although I’ve always loved swimming I never thought of becoming a lifeguard. The pool allowed me and other young people to have an opportunity which we wouldn’t have had otherwise.

“The pool has brought the community together and given the village a real lift.”

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