Arches Leisure Centre

Trafalgar Road, SE10

The Arches are not, I confess, somewhere I frequent on a regular basis. Every so often I make a bit of effort and go for a week or so then somehow sink among the waves of apathy.

It’s nothing to do with the facilities. They’re really not bad at all. Built in 1928, the place has two pools, originally, would you believe, ‘First’ and ‘Second’ class. The ‘First’ class pool is what is now known as the ‘Fitness’ pool, roped into lanes of various abilities – from plodders to fitness freaks. Laning-off manages to avoid at least most of the problems, not least those pensioners who insist on doing widths, backstroke, across all the lanes, stopping suddenly for a chat with their mate just when you’re trying to plod past in the opposite direction. It doesn’t prevent the butterfly-stroke-show-offs, though, who plough past you in a fury of water sending everyone else flying in their wake.

But this isn’t a post about pool etiquette, it’s about the pool itself. What I love about it is the little individual cubicles running along each long side. They have swing doors, some with little modesty flaps in bright colours hanging from the top and are so cute, if rather battered now, that they just cannot survive any modernisation that may or may not (what do you think) that may go on. Neither, sadly, will the now-virtually-redundant stages that grace the ends of both pools. I like to think that they either drained the pools occasionally or covered them with a dance floor for balls and events and the stage was for bands. Of course it could be far more prosaic and the platform was just used for the Lady Mayoress, resplendent in giant picture hat and beaded dress to dole out the cups after swimming galas. It’s painted with a jolly 1920s-style mural now and still has some of its original deco fittings.

Trivia – there is a scene at the pool in Camilla May’s The Dead of Summer (see ‘Books.’)

The other (ex-’Second class’) bath is now a ‘leisure’ pool – which at least separates the dive-bombing teenagers and toddlers who haven’t yet quite managed bladder-control from the ‘serious’ swimmers. It has a very shallow end and little extra pools with fake sandcastles and rocks so that it can be easily cordoned off for classes and tinies. There seem to be a lot of classes of various descriptions. I have never seen anyone shooting down the curly slide, but that may have more to do with the fact that I don’t frequent the pool enough than it’s not being used.

There are two studios, one big, the other tiny, also used for classes. It is sometimes filled with squashy cushions for a creche. Right at the back there’s a gym. It’s not too full of scary muscle-men and not as intimidating as some I have been to. Plenty of baffling machines which, despite the fact that I once, Very Long Ago, had an induction, I can never remember how to use. I quite like the vibrating plate, but that’s probably more information than you need. You can watch TV whilst you’re on the bikes, but given the general standard of TV, both daytime and evening, you may choose to bring your own entertainment.

Uncertainty hangs like a sword of Damocles above the Arches roof. Given that rumblings and rumours of a new leisure centre at the Old District Hospital Site bubble under the surface and that the close proximity of The Arches to the centre of Greenwich makes it prime luxury-flat development potential, I don’t hold out much hope for the place long-term. It’s already looking tired round the edges (despite a refurb not so long ago in Local Council terms) but I don’t see it ever being spruced up again. I don’t know if it’s listed (where can one find a list of listed buildings? I’ve searched and searched but at the moment if you’re not an official you can only see a list in Swindon. I must check at the Heritage Centre…) but I reckon it is of 20th Century interest and I would hope that it wouldn’t just be pulled down by developers. Surely they must be able to do something interesting with the existing building?

In the meanwhile, happy splashing…

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