© New Zealand Broadcasting School 2020

Linwood residents' decades of despair

Brad Christensen
Linwood Ave
Facilities that some Linwood kids use throughout the summer  Brad Christensen

After thirty years of advocacy and tireless efforts from the community board, Linwood is set to get their very own aquatic facility.

Hurling my four-foot frame off QE2’s 10-meter platform is among my fondest of memories. Playing in the water with my friends, the lack of gravity - in that moment nothing else seemed to matter. I’ve come to understand the smile that beamed from my grandmother looking on from the poolside. Times like these are important for children, just having fun in the water.

Unfortunately, not all Christchurch kids currently have access to this kind of fun.

For thirty years, the Linwood Central and Heathcote community board have listed a community pool facility as their number one priority.

Year after year they were told to wait.

 

Ex-member of the community board Linda Rutland said people in these communities feel neglected. “They’ve had this issue for such a long time, but the council keeps on saying let's have another review”. A community pool has been a priority in the south eastern suburbs for such a long time that they created a separate movement - The Aquatics Facility Committee. 

Rutland was appointed head of this committee and she believes it’s people in low socioeconomic areas that benefit most from community facilities. The areas in question “suffer from high crime rates, so it’s really good to put in a facility that will provide positive enjoyment. They’re missing out on a lot of fun” she said. After decades of being pushed aside, it seemed the Linwood and Woolston communities were losing hope.

But 2017 was the year they’ve been waiting for.  

 

The Christchurch City Council has finally decided to provide for this community. As of their last annual plan meeting, 20 million dollars was approved for a pool. Jake McLellan is the deputy chair of the Linwood Central & Heathcote community board and was a driving force in the campaign. He believes the battle isn’t won just yet. “The test now will be will be the review of all of the aquatics projects going on” said McLellan. Council is faced with large operational costs for facilities like community pools and they must ensure that maintenance is affordable over an extended period of time.   

In other words, funding isn’t guaranteed.

If the pool is built, it will likely be situated at the end of Linwood Park, on the corner of Linwood Ave and Smith Street.

 

Proposed site
The proposed site for the pool on the corner of Linwood Ave and Smith Street Christensen

Linwood College Principal, Richard Edmundson, said the lack of access issue has wide ranging flow on effects for his students, as well as the wider community. He said “when you’re doing something positive and active, you’re not being sucked into perhaps doing something negative”. Without the option of having legitimate fun in their community, some kids are following different paths. With the nearest facilities being Aquagym or Pioneer Stadium, students would be required to travel there by their own means or at a cost to their parents. With an issue spanning this kind of lifetime, it’s unsurprising that kids seem to have forgotten all about it. Edmundson said travelling to other pools and enjoying those facilities “is not something we hear our students talking about”. 

Jake McLellan believes it’s people in these communities who are least likely to have the means to accommodate traveling to other facilities. “This is an area with a lack of access to cars, a lack of funds to pay for ever-increasing bus fares, and generally just time-poor people”. 

108 people died from drowning in New Zealand last year. While not all of those were people swimming, they all involved water. More people died in 2016 while swimming than they have since 1998. 

The aquatic killer is the fourth largest cause of accidental deaths in this country.

Ex Human Rights Commissioner, Karolin Potter, believes one of the most important jobs for the council is to provide “access to swimming for children - learning to swim is a huge priority for New Zealanders” she said.

So the City Council has pledged to spend eighty thousand dollars for a trial that would involve pre schoolers and green prescription holders having free access at certain times of the day - but only on weekdays. 

We know It’s essential that all kiwi kids have a chance to learn how to swim. However, figures show that preschoolers and young children are far from the most at risk. 17 people aged between 45 and 54 drowned while swimming last year. This is followed closely by the 15-24 age bracket, which saw 14 deaths. These figures show just how important it is that people have access to aquatic facilities, and professionals who can teach them how to be safe in that environment.

New Zealand's 2016 drowning statistics by age group

If all goes to plan, people in Linwood and Woolston won’t have to wait much longer for this kind of access. Deputy Mayor, Andrew Turner, said the timeframe for this project will have it ready for customers by 2021. According to Turner, the next phase in this project will involve community consultation, to see whether “there’s opportunity for other features that bring the community together - such as a cafe and meeting rooms”.

He went on to explain that there was “significant changes to the city’s capital projects and capital planning as a result of the fact we’ve had an earthquake”. This inevitably meant some major plans were pushed back considerable amounts of time in order for the city to recover and regain some form of normality.

 

So with 20 million tucked away for Linwood and Woolston’s new pool, it seems the battle may finally be over. Jake McLellan hopes it will be. But he believes there could still be some hurdles to jump. “The real test is where does the project go from here? Will it open on time? Will it be given its full allotment? Asked McLellan.

Richard Edmundson remains optimistic. He believes the pool will represent Linwood’s stake in the ground “that says we are a part of the rebuild of Christchurch, and the community”. A corner of the city that can not afford to be forgotten about any longer.

“A strong east is important for a strong Christchurch” said Edmundson.