© New Zealand Broadcasting School 2021

Wharenui Swim Club continues to tread water

Claudia Toxopeus
Screen Shot 2021 05 12 at 2.28.38 PM
Wharenui Swim Club  Claudia Toxopeus

It was sink or swim for Wharenui Swim Club when they called on Christchurch City Council to keep their pool open.

On May 8, sign-wielding supporters filled council's chamber in a bid to save their historic and beloved facilities.

Council recently proposed decommissioning the Riccarton pool, due to the imminent arrival of the new Metro Sports Facility, now known as Parakiore Recreation and Sports Centre.

The swim club leases the facility from the council, putting the decision in the Government's hands. 

Club representatives spoke on behalf of the 200,000 Cantabrians who learnt to swim at Wharenui.

Committee member David Ormsby told councillors their small community needs their support.

“We are a small part of the community up against this juggernaut called the council. It has been quite scary.”

He said an authentic partnership model would be a sufficient course of action and asked council to commit to a recently uncovered 1960 document which showed the land was initially to be used for public swimming.

“Wharenui is our pool and our home.”

Felicity Rea, a teacher at Wharenui School, was amongst those who voiced their concerns.

“I have seen the value it has given to so many of our students.”

She told the story of 10-year-old student, Daniel, who had never been in water deeper than his ankles.

However, after five lessons with the team at Wharenui, his confidence grew, and he went deeper than his shoulders.

Over the next two years, Daniel continued lessons at the facility, and became a “confident and competent swimmer”.

“Without this opportunity, Daniel could have easily become one of New Zealand’s drowning statistics,” Rea said.

18 clubs use the pool, and the club has produced a number of notable athletes.

Club president Chris Averill is overwhelmed by the amount of support they have received.

He said the campaign had been boosted by two factors.

First, a decades-old deed that revealed the council-given land was originally purposed for public swimming.

Second, the discovery of old documents and incorrect calculations may keep the pool afloat. 

Rather than the initial estimated $7.7 million, the club discovered it was closer to $2m after council made a $5 million accounting error in the pool’s future running costs.

Council's recreation and sports services manager David Bailey apologised for the mistake.

“We have committed to working with Wharenui Swim Club to refresh this data to ensure we have an accurate figure for the projected costs over the next 10 to 20 years."

Still, Averill is not giving up.

“We’re going to be fighting hard to get there. We’ve fought through two world wars with the pool, earthquakes, and Covid so this is just another challenge for us.”