'Excited to be home': Swimmers, gym-goers and staff finally return to Ponds Forge after more than seven long months
Swimmers, divers, fitness fanatics, gym-goers and staff have finally returned to Ponds Forge after seven long months of closure, saving 100 jobs in the process.
The city centre, Olympic-class venue opened for the first time since March on Monday, October 26 following a campaign by aquatics clubs based there after Sheffield City Trust announced it would not be able to reopen Ponds Forge before April 2021 – which they said would be a “best case scenario”.
The u-turn decision to bring the reopening date forward to October this year - which was made by SCT, who run the venue, and Sheffield Council - is estimated to save around 100 jobs at SCT.
Jamie Rodgers, operations manager who has worked at Ponds Forge for 12 years, was there first thing this morning to welcome people back including some early bird lane swimmers at 6.45 am.
He said: “It’s very exciting. It’s good obviously to get the community, all the people of Sheffield and the staff back in.
“Every member of staff from the top level all the way down to lifeguards have all put in the effort and tried to make it as Covid-safe as possible for all the staff and customers coming in. It’s a very proud moment for us all to be opening back up and it’s good for the city.
“The feedback we had from customers has been very positive.
“This would have been a big part of my life missing if we hadn’t reopened and it would have been the same for a lot of other staff, some have been here for a few months before lockdown and others more than 20 years so it’s a big relief for us all. It’s just about stepping forward now and progressing onto further stages of reopening.
“Obviously it’s a hard task and we are all up for the challenge to make Ponds Forge the forefront of sport and leisure.
“What I’ve missed most about Ponds Forge, are all the different customers from all the different squads we have to general public to the events which will hopefully be coming back soon once things are a bit more relaxed. It’s been a long process but things are on the up now.”
SCT and the council initially decided to keep the venue closed in August when other leisure facilities were reopening, saying it would cost too much money.
But following the clubs’ campaign, which was backed by all MPs across the city and 2,250 sign ups on their petition, the council invested £1.6 million on top of £15 million for other SCT venues, to reopen Ponds Forge.
Tom Owens, head coach at City of Sheffield Diving Club, said in this first week around 200 people will return to training across 14 squads.
He said: “It's a huge relief to be back. Today has been incredible, you walk in and obviously it's an amazing venue - we've missed it massively. At one point we were really worried we wouldn't be here for a very long time.
"It's been a busy few weeks trying to reprogramme everything and get everything back to a point where we are ready to go so I'm really happy but for me now it's about getting all of the divers in.
"When they come in later I can see the little kids who haven't dived for months on end with big smiles on their faces, happy and getting back to doing the sport they love. I think that's when it's really going to hit home how impactful the campaign was and what it meant to everyone.
"I've been in pools all around the world and on every continent and Ponds Forge honestly stands up against the absolute very best of them. From my perspective what I love about this building is the space, the architecture, it's so grand. For me as a coach this is where I can do my best work with the athletes."
One athlete is Ross Haslam who has been diving at Ponds Forge for 18 years. His mum also works in the building as a fitness instructor.
He said: "There is something special about this building and it just feels like home to us all.
“It’s been really difficult [for us not being here], my mum has been working at other SCT venues but I know that’s even been hard for her travelling to different venues but I think we are both really excited to be back home."
Clare Cryan, also of the City of Sheffield Diving Club, is training for the postponed Olympic Games next year.
She said: "It was definitely strange, in the 17 years I’ve been diving here the longest I’ve had off is two weeks in the summer so it was very strange not to be coming in and having that normal routine.
“Because I’ve come here for more of my life than not, it’s cheesy and I know a lot of people have said it but, it is a second home because you spend six hours a day here. I live here more than I live at home so it really is nice to be back in.”
As well as swimming, the gym and fitness classes are back on with plans to restart trampolining in the coming weeks too.
Sheffield Sharks basketball team have also returned to training in the venue.
A lot of hard work has gone into preparing the building to be as Covid-safe as possible. Masks must be worn at all times when walking around the site, machines are deep cleaned at regular intervals and there are limits to the number of people per session.
To find out more about the measures in place and how to book, go to https://www.sheffieldcitytrust.org/