'Save our swimming club': Olympian's plea to keep top London team afloat

Gaurika Singh at the Tokyo Olympic Games

Gaurika Singh at the Tokyo Olympic Games - Credit: Gaurika Singh

A young Olympic star has joined the call to save one of London’s top swimming clubs following a dispute over pool hours.

Camden Swiss Cottage Swimming Club (CSCSC) has warned it faces closure “by the end of year”, bearing a £60,000 hole in its finances.

One of the team’s elite swimmers, 18-year-old Gaurika Singh, the Olympic flagbearer for Nepal at the Tokyo Games, told the Ham&High she wouldn’t have made it to the international stage without her Camden squad.

Camden Swiss Cottage Swimming Club masters' members in the pool

Camden Swiss Cottage Swimming Club masters' members in the pool - Credit: Polly Hancock

The club based at Swiss Cottage Leisure Club says it urgently needs greater allocation of pool hours to help alleviate its financial troubles by lifting its number of paying members, which has fallen by a third to just over 300. 

The team, which also boasts Paralympic swimmer Ellie Simmonds among its ranks, has called on the council to provide it with emergency funding to keep it afloat. 

Camden Council and pool operator Greenwich Leisure Ltd (GLL), which trades under the name Better, said they are committed to supporting CSCSC, but that hours needed to be shared fairly across the public. 

Gaurika, who competed in the 100m freestyle at Tokyo and the 100m backstroke at Rio 2016, where she was the youngest athlete aged 13, said: “Without a doubt, if I hadn't joined the club I would not be an Olympian. I would not be here swimming today.

Gaurika Singh as Olympic flagbearer for Nepal at the Tokyo Olympics

Gaurika Singh as Olympic flagbearer for Nepal at the Tokyo Olympics - Credit: Gaurika Singh

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“The club was instrumental in my whole process – not even just going to the Olympics but actually continuing swimming.” 

The Barnet student from Mill Hill, who collected her A Level results on Tuesday (August 10), left boarding school and changed sixth form just so she could train in Camden.  

Pointing to the club’s pedigree across the country, Gaurika said it is crucial that the borough stays at the top of London’s swimming map, citing her own success and the club’s transformation under head coach Adam Taylor.

Gaurika Singh, of Camden Swiss Cottage Swimming Club

Gaurika Singh, of Camden Swiss Cottage Swimming Club - Credit: AJ McEver

“I think it’s so important we do keep the programme, especially coming out of Covid,” the 18-year-old said. 

“People, particularly teenagers, have been in quite dark places considering we've not been able to go out and spend time with friends.  

“For me especially, swimming was a very good coping mechanism even before Covid. If I was stressed at school or anything it was an escape.  

“Cutting the programme would do more harm, not even just in the pool but also out of the pool for people's wellbeing.”

Gaurika Singh during the Tokyo Olympics opening ceremony

Gaurika Singh during the Tokyo Olympics opening ceremony - Credit: Gaurika Singh

Last year CSCSC, which has swimmers of all abilities, lost its main source of revenue after GLL was awarded the contract for the Learn to Swim programme.

Compounded by lockdown closures which led to a fall in membership, the club now finds itself in a “very poor” situation, chair Marc Barrot said. 

“If we don’t get a working compromise on pool space we just can't operate, which means that the successful swimming club as we know it will cease to exist, period.”

Camden Swiss Cottage Swimming Club coach Vanessa Burini (left) and chair Marc Barrot (right)

Camden Swiss Cottage Swimming Club coach Vanessa Burini (left) and chair Marc Barrot (right) - Credit: Polly Hancock

Calling for a bailout from the council to enable the club to transition its business model, the Hampstead resident added: “We need a working schedule which means that we can still operate as the club we were. That's our main priority.” 

Cllr Luisa Porritt, Camden’s Liberal Democrat leader, said it is vital, following the success of the British swimming team in Tokyo, for CSCSC to be “championed by our borough”.  

Urging the council to step in with financial support, the Belsize councillor said: “It is also vital that the council steps in on the negotiations with Better GLL to ensure the club can maintain its ownership of the higher stages of the Learn to Swim programme and run it at suitable times for both younger and older swimmers to attend the pool.  

“The future of our top swimming club must be protected.”

A CSCSC briefing from coaches Kylie Bland, Alex Coci and Adam Taylor

A CSCSC briefing from coaches Kylie Bland, Alex Coci and Adam Taylor - Credit: AJ McEver

In a joint statement, Camden and GLL said sufficient pool time must be given to community sessions, such as for swimmers with disabilities, and that it is regularly meeting with CSCSC to “help them get back on track”. 

A spokesperson said: “We are increasing the number of hours the Swimming Club will have sole use of the pool lanes and are working with the club to ensure these are available at times which best suit their members.   

“GLL are committed to promoting the club’s activities to Learn to Swim participants, including inviting club coaches along to sessions, to establish a clear pathway from beginner to club member to grow the club’s membership.” 

In January last year GLL was handed a new ten-year contract worth £18.9m by the council to run its leisure centres.  

However a year later, after the not-for-profit health provider saw its revenues fall by £170m during the pandemic, Camden warned it was considering bringing leisure services back in-house.