Jesmond Pool has a long history. Originally opened in 1938, the pool was Newcastle City Council-run until 1991 when, despite massive protest from the local community, the pool was closed due to budget restrictions. In response, a group of people from the local community formed Jesmond Swimming Project and began campaigning to have the pool re-opened. After meeting with resistance, the group decided that, rather than rely on the Council, they would re-open the pool themselves under community management.
Jesmond Pool was re-opened in April 1992 with a £50,000 grant from the Foundation for Sports and the Arts and established as a social enterprise and charity with the aim of providing swimming and associated fitness activities for the residents of Jesmond and surrounding areas. Eighteen years on, Jesmond Pool had gone from strength to strength, employing 20 core staff, a number of sessional and part time workers and over 50 volunteers, and generates an annual turnover of between £500,000 and £600,000 from trading alone.
Despite its success as a social enterprise and community facility, Jesmond Pool faced many challenges during its start up phase, the main challenge being proving to the Council that the facility was needed and wanted by the local community and that the enterprise could prosper. Established at a time when ‘social enterprise’ was rarely heard of, Jesmond Pool faced scepticism as to whether it would last and was initially allowed only a month-by-month lease on the property by the Council. However, the enterprise proved its worth as a vital community facility and gained the support of local councillors who saw its benefit in the community.
A major milestone for Jesmond Pool since its incarnation as a social enterprise came with the approval of a Big Lottery grant to develop the building in 2002. The grant allowed Jesmond Pool to make major improvements to its entrance and changing rooms, re-tile its pool hall and add sauna and steam room facilities, convert its basement space into a gym, and construct an entirely new floor level which houses an activity room. The modernisation of the premises means the enterprise offers a range of activities beyond just swimming including pilates, spinning, yoga and zumba.
With its range of swimming and exercise facilities, Jesmond Pool aims to offer a service to all members of the local community, from mothers and toddlers AquaBabes swimming lessons, to older Jesmond residents, with its ‘Ageing Disgracefully’ scheme – a project delivered with the help of Council grant funding aimed at older people with specific health problems who can receive advice on exercise to alleviate their condition and subsidised periods in the pool’s gym. Indeed, it is this ethos that really stands out about Jesmond Pool – its responsiveness to the needs of the community and its strong ties with local residents.
The Board of the enterprise maintains its roots within the community by being made up of members of the local community, with the overall direction of the enterprise decided by its residents and customers. Jesmond Pool’s Board of Trustees are all local residents, with vested interest in how the business can best benefit the area. The enterprise comprises of a range of committee groups – Building Development, Communications, Personnel, Looking Ahead and Financial and Fundraising – all of which are a mixture of trustees, staff and other members of the community and help to direct Jesmond Pool’s policy and plans for the future with their range of expertise and local knowledge. All Board meetings are open to the public whose opinions are welcomed.
Jesmond Pool’s commitment to the community is clear in its adoption of social accounting as a means of judging the enterprise’s worth. Having secured stability financially, the enterprise began creating social accounts in 2003 to further evidence its benefit to the community. The enterprise’s last Social Accounts detailed the results of two commissioned surveys that sought to establish local community participation in sports and recreation and customer experience of the pool’s facilities. The first survey found that 90% of residents are aware of Jesmond Pool and 40% of adult residents use the pool. The second survey evidenced that 96% of customers were satisfied with the pool’s facilities. While the recent surveys evidenced positive opinion and active use of the facility within the community, they also enabled the enterprise to identify areas for improvement such as new gym equipment and better publicity for all facilities within the building.
Jesmond Pool also actively seeks to connect with other organisations in the local community and surrounding areas to reach a wider audience and share best practice. The enterprise’s regular newsletter, available via the Jesmond Pool website, is often delivered with the help of students from Northern Counties College, a local specialist educational establishment that provides independent living skills and progression into supported work for young people with disabilities. Jesmond Pool has also worked closely with fellow community-run facility Fenham Pool, providing the organisation with advice during its transition from Council run facility to social enterprise, and now shares a close relationship with the pool’s Board of Trustees.
Quite rightfully, Jesmond Pool has received recognition for both its success as a business and its social purpose. In 2002, the enterprise received a runners-up prize at the National Social Enterprise Awards and in 2007 was a finalist in the North East Business Awards. Jesmond Pool has in recent years become an exemplar enterprise in the provision of advice and is regularly approached by both social enterprises and local authorities, especially in areas where leisure facilities are under threat, with regards to the viability of community leisure and recreation projects.
Over its eighteen years as a social enterprise, Jesmond Pool has learned that two vital areas have been instrumental to its success – its focus on earned income and meeting the needs of customers. Though the enterprise has been the recipient of some grants when needed, as with its refurbishment in 2002, Jesmond Pool has always endeavoured to earn enough through trading to be sustainable rather than rely on grants through rigorous cost cutting wherever possible in terms of overheads. The enterprise has also succeeded by listening to customers, be it through surveys conducted as part of its Social Accounts or by issues raised at Board meetings, and running its business to meet the needs of the local community. The structure of the company, in that its Board and staff are made up of members of the local community, has helped the enterprise address the needs of its customers as has its identifying of services that other leisure facilities might not offer, such as regular business hours on Bank Holidays and the provision of children’s swimming lessons.
With regards to the future, Jesmond Pool hopes to, now that the company and pool premises are secure and running successfully, to extend its services by running some leisure activities outside the base of the pool possibly in other community buildings in the area. Jesmond Pool may also consider the purchase or lease of a new community property through which to deliver services beyond those offered currently. This year the enterprise formed a new company, Jesmond Community Leisure, also a social enterprise, which it hopes to use as a vehicle for any new ventures it considers. A formal launch of Jesmond Community Leisure is anticipated in the New Year, to celebrate 19 years since the pool re-opened as a social enterprise. It is clear that Jesmond Pool is a much loved facility within the community – this combined with the enterprise’s business acumen and ability to succeed in the face of adversity will no doubt mean that the future is bright for Jesmond Pool.
Chris Clarke (Company Secretary) or Glenn Armstrong (Chief Executive) on 0191 281 2482
- An illustrated history of the enterprise, ‘Making a Splash: How Jesmond Pool Made History’ can be purchased at Jesmond Pool for £6 or posted directly for £7.
- Jesmond Pool have also kindly requested we include that they are willing to offer any help or advice they can to other organisations in the region, especially organisations involved in community leisure and recreation.