Cheers to Peterborough’s hydrotherapy pool after 10 years providing a lifeline
After a decade providing a lifeline for thousands of people with disabilities while regularly fighting for its very survival there are plenty of reasons to celebrate for all those associated with St George’s Hydrotherapy Pool on Tuesday.
The highly valued asset in Dogsthorpe Road has endured continued threats to its operations (whether it be funding cuts or leaks) over the past 10 years, but despite this it remains treasured by 4,500 registered users from in and around Peterborough who are able to find relief from their pain and carry out much needed exercise.
One of those to have experienced the benefits of the hydrotherapy pool both first-hand and in her role as St George’s Friends and Service Users lead is Karen Oldale (60) who uses it to relieve her muscular, neurological and orthopaedic pain.
“It’s been a journey!” Karen said, looking back over the 10 years since St George’s transformed from a respite care pool being used just a few hours a week to a community pool.
“But it’s well worth it. I get to see people who use the pool, I get to see their faces and how much it makes a difference, and how much it matters to their loved ones.
“It has been an effort but it’s so worth it. It gets so much support from the community.
“We have on occasions - as one councillor put it - had to win hearts and minds. And I love that because it’s very much what we’ve had to do.
“We’re so lucky to have it in Peterborough as other places don’t have it. We should shout about it.”
The hydrotherapy pool is used for, among other things, aquatic physiotherapy, aquafit and aqua relaxation and sensory, while its therapeutic benefits have even helped people learn to walk again.
It has remained in existence in no small part thanks to donations (often from city councillors), as well as the efforts of Vivacity, the trust which until recently ran leisure and cultural services in Peterborough and which saved St George’s from closing its doors in 2018.
There were also troubles in 2017 from a leak which again threatened its existence, but fortunately it was able to re-open and has continued to thrive, with highlights including a new surface for the car park and £5,500 of fundraising for a new hoist.
“So many people, if they have a disability or a health condition, find physical activity difficult as they have weakness or pain,” said Karen.
“It’s a really warm pool and is really good for pain and for people with tense muscles.
“For some people it’s their only activity of the week and the only time they’re not on a piece of equipment. It serves people that aren’t catered for elsewhere.
“We did a survey because it’s important to keep evidence of what’s happening at the pool, and the pool users are really generous - they are so wonderful.
“The survey was over two weeks and 234 people completed it which shows you just how much people care about the pool, and there were some fantastic health outcomes - improvements in their physical health and improvements in their mental health and wellbeing.”
As for the highlights over the past decade, “there are so many,” Karen continued.
“Keeping it going, seeing the faces when people go in there, some of the fundraising events, getting support from the local community.
“Personally, doing the survey and seeing the outcomes. Elderly parents were writing about how much it meant to them - that was a highlight.
“Getting a social return on investment was a highlight, and that was valued at £1.5 million each year. That was important to show what the pool delivers for the community and for Peterborough.”
The past decade has not only seen improvements to St George’s but an extension in the range of classes.
But with the likelihood of replacing the facility with an improved offering at the proposed new regional pool at Pleasure Fair Meadow Car Park looking unlikely, the future for St George’s remains uncertain.
“For as long as we can we will keep it going for everybody who needs it,” said Karen, who admitted she is “really concerned” about how people are faring without being able to access the pool during the pandemic.
And as for the celebrations, lots of “lovely messages” have been left on the St George’s website, while one user has even made a video which will be shared out.
“It will have to be a bit low key!” Karen added, although there are hopes of something more formal when the pool is able to re-open.
One of the people to have championed St George’s over the past decade is Werrington First city councillor John Fox.
He said: “The hydrotherapy pool is essential for people with mobility problems and is a great asset to Peterborough. I am proud to have been associated with them over the years and am fully supportive of what they do and their aims and achievements and look forward to a good future for them.
“We have to keep supporting it as best we can and look for ways to improve it - either a big, new location or a couple of locations. They’re doing a tremendous job.”