How it all began

Sadly, in the 1940s, a small boy from Silsden drowned in the canal. The townspeople of the day, naturally, were devastated at this small boy’s death. A group was formed to raise funds to build a swimming pool in the town to ensure that all children could learn to swim and so the tragedy of the small boy drowning would not be repeated. Children gave pennies, coffee mornings and jumble sales were held and floats were sponsored for the carnival. Anything which would raise funds was attempted.

The campaign continued for many years. Eventually it was decided that unless the plunge was taken (excuse the pun!) and a swimming pool built the fundraising would go on for ever. The Headteacher of Hothfield Junior School at the time, Mr John Stanley Bell, decided that they could spare part of an outside classroom on the school site (which explains the shape and design of the pool at the moment) and eventually, in 1974 the pool opened. The school successfully ran the pool for many years with all local children learning to swim there.

The cost of continuing to run the pool eventually proved a drain to the schools funds until it was beginning to take away cash from books and pencils etc. Reluctantly, in 1999, the School Governors took the decision to close the pool. The Governors did state at that time that the pool would be mothballed for 12 months and if any group felt they could raise the funds required for necessary repairs and installations they would be prepared to listen to them.

In July 2000, at the eleventh hour, residents approached Silsden Town Council and asked whether the Council would be willing to take over the running of this very necessary and worthwhile swimming pool. With the Town Council’s backing, a group of 4 people; 2 Town Councillors (one of whom, Jakki Birtwistle had previously run Silsden Swim Club at the pool), the Town Clerk (at this time, me) and a member of the public sat down and looked into various costings etc and whether the pool would be able to be run, not at a profit but with enough funds to cover all expenses. The group decided that it was too good a facility to let go to waste without at least trying to save it. The group prepared a Business Plan and submitted this to the Governors to see if they would at least let the group try to raise the necessary funding to allow repairs etc to take place.

To the delight of the group and the local community in general, in October 2000, the Governors gave the group the go ahead to try to raise the £10,000 necessary to make repairs. Begging letters were sent out to local businesses asking for money or materials, residents made donations, fun days and coffee mornings were held. One of the first donors was the family of the little boy who had drowned many years earlier. As before, anything which would generate money was tried. Eventually the fighting fund approached £8000 and the Governors gave the go ahead for repairs to be started at the pool. Legal documents were created giving permission for the Town Council to occupy the pool building and Swimstart was born.

Works began in January 2001 with a target of opening for business at Easter time 2001. A large number of local tradespeople gave their time and skills for free and committee members (and their husbands!) all pitched in. It was decided to start with lessons in the Easter holidays and places for these courses sold out within days. Swimstart was up and running. The courses proved so successful that the position we had wanted to be in after 2 years, was achieved within 6 months.

Sadly, before the pool could be reopened, the former Headteacher of Hothfield Junior School and great supporter of Swimstart, Mr John Stanley Bell, died. It was decided that it would be a fitting tribute to rename the pool in Mr Bell’s memory. So it was that in May 2001 Mr Bell’s widow, Audrey, assisted by the Lord Mayor of Bradford and the Mayor of Silsden, Cllr Lawrence Walton (a member of the original group), cut the ribbon and reopened the pool. In May 2004 Swimstart registered as a charity in its own right and separated from the Town Council.

We now have over 600 children learning to swim each week and would estimate that, with holiday as well as weekly courses, over 17,000 children have passed through our doors learning to swim over the past 18 years. We are truly proud of the numbers of children who have learned to swim with us and continue learning to swim with us. This has to be of benefit to the community in general.