Swimmers’ stunt to save Sheffield leisure centre

Supporters turned out to cheer on Peter Morton and Chris Hilcroft as they swam the River Don to highlight the importance of keeping Stocksbridge's swimming pool open.
Supporters turned out to cheer on Peter Morton and Chris Hilcroft as they swam the River Don to highlight the importance of keeping Stocksbridge's swimming pool open.
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A PAIR of wetsuit warriors exposed themselves to the elements to highlight the importance of keeping Stocksbridge Leisure Centre open.

Protester Peter Morton and pal Chris Holcroft took the plunge into the freezing depths of the River Don in a bid to show the lack of alternatives for the community if the facility closes.

Known affectionately as the ‘fruitloop in a wetsuit’, Peter, aged 49, was cheered on by an army of around 50 people as he set off from the back of The Bridge Inn on Cote Lane, Thurgoland, on Saturday.

After tackling slippery boulders, icicles and fast-running water Peter and Chris received a heroes’ welcome as they arrived at the river behind Lowood Club, Deepcar.

It may have seemed like just a zany publicity stunt but there was a serious message behind the men’s efforts - young people in Stocksbridge may have nowhere else to swim but in the hazardous River Don if their centre closes.

Peter said: “I’m an outdoor swimmer but I usually do swims in the summer in more picturesque places.

“I came up with this idea mostly because the people of Stocksbridge are in such shock about the idea of losing their leisure centre.

“All my children learnt to swim there. My stepson George is autistic and he had a fear of water. Being able to go to a swimming pool in the community helped him to overcome that. He’s 23 now and swimming is a big part of his life.

“That’s just one story out of the thousands from people who have used it in the 40-plus years it has been open.”

Sheffield Council has announced plans to cut the £400,000 in public subsidy it gives to the centre, run by Sheffield International Venues, in January.

Campaign group 4SLC - for Stocksbridge Leisure Centre - is now appealing for more time to come up with a business plan for a sustainable, community-run facility.

Emma Gregory, chairwoman of the 4SLC group, said: “It was a really good day and we had a great turnout.”