The battle behind getting Sidmouth a swimming pool

Swimmer Geraldine launched battle to build Sidmouth pool in 1978

IT took 14 years of fund-raising, struggle and argument to bring a public swimming pool to Sidmouth.

Yet the efforts of those who battled for so long all those years ago have been largely forgotten until this week when, on the eve of the pool’s 20th anniversary, tribute was paid to the support which triumphed against years of council indifference and opposition at almost every turn.

“I don’t believe it would have happened without the support of the people of Sidmouth,” said Roger Ashby who, with a dedicated team, led the campaign.

A keen swimmer, Dutch-born Geraldine James, started the campaign with a small steering committee in 1978, registering the Sidmouth Swimming Society as a charity to raise funds to build a pool and run it with volunteers initially on land in Station Road.

Traffic and access objections put paid to that idea, switching the focus to land the society eventually bought in the Byes to position a pool next to Sidmouth College.

“My proposition was it should not be run by volunteers but built by the local authority as a facility for the town,” said Mr Ashby, an engineer, who became chairman of the society after joining as project adviser.

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“We approached the district council. But they didn’t want to know. The attitude was why did we need a pool when we had the sea? That’s when the battle really started. We launched a petition which collected 5,000 signatures and an appeal which raised the huge amount of �40,000.

“Geraldine was a powerhouse, fantastic at stirring people up. But gathered around her were these Dad’s Army types who, though very well intentioned, didn’t have that killer instinct to battle against the opposition and total indifference we faced from the council.

“We had tremendous legal and land survey support from local professionals and what I tried to do was pull all this energy together and harness a tidal wave of support.

“It was a challenge that, for 13 years, took over my life.”

Argument raged over the Primley site, preferred by the society because it made sense to build a pool alongside the college sports hall so the whole complex would become a community centre. That was where a pool was destined. But DCC raised congestion and road safety concerns. There was opposition, too, from residents and from some staff at the college.

As argument see-sawed, the pressure was unrelenting until, after years of campaigning, a pool for Sidmouth was finally adopted by EDDC which, after considering the college, put the Ham in the frame for the site with the late, all powerful Alderman Ted Pinney, leader of the council, playing a decisive role.

He told Mr Ashby: “The pool goes there, or nowhere.”

*Next week former councillor Tom Fraser pays tribute to Mr Ashby and Alderman Ted Pinney over their roles in bringing the pool to Sidmouth.