Women-only swimming makes a splash

By Kai Wei Cheng

Campaigners will be back at the earliest given opportunity before they can tackle the issue for women’s only swimming sessions at Colchester Leisure World (CLW) as snow stopped them on Sunday 10 December.

CLW is known for their facilities such as the gym, courts, pitches, and their swimming pools for the public. With this wide variety, they also offer a few women’s only swimming sessions that run for an hour from Monday to Thursday.

However, these sessions are found to be not fit for purpose as they are often supervised by male lifeguards. It has also been noted that the facilities consists only of mixed changing rooms rather than single gendered changing rooms. This puts off many women- some elderly, some of bodily scarring and body image issues, some with cultural and religious purposes- from using the facilities despite it being marketed as ‘for ladies only’.

With this in mind, some have reached out to the newly formed branch of Citizens Alliance in Colchester.

Citizens UK organises communities to act together for power, social justice and the common good. Colchester Citizens Alliance is made up of a diverse range of civil society organizations across Colchester who are committed to the cause with its members including the University of Essex and Essex Student’s Union.

On the 8th of December (Friday), 8 representatives from various organizations including Yasmin Abdullah- the VP International of the Essex’s Student Union- attended a meeting with the CLW managers and a representative from Colchester Borough Council who runs the facility to request for changes to be made.

The requests were that CLW should roster female lifeguards for their women’s only swimming sessions, as well as putting up clear signs around the area to indicate when the session is in progress. Another request was for the sessions to be extended by 30 minutes, allowing 15 minutes before and after the session for the participants to have the changing rooms to themselves.
“They completely shut us down,” Says Yasmin Abdullah, saying that they were basically told to go somewhere else.
CLW were unable to meet any of the requests. This was due to a lack of resources where female lifeguards could not be arranged to fit the rota of the sessions as well as the open floor plan of the facilities that prevented the session in the main pool to be exclusive only to women.

Because of the lack of change, the campaign for public action was set for the 10th of December to gain more traction for the cause. However, this was postponed due to the poor weather conditions that had occurred.

“We definitely have work to do to demonstrate the number of people- and most importantly the revenue [that CLW can earn]- that would take up midday genuinely women’s only swimming sessions.” Says Caitlin Burbridge, the representative from Citizens UK.

Colchester Citizens Alliance will be rearranging the campaign to a suitable time in January 2018. “It is nice to know that there are already 8 organisations that completely support us [in this cause].” Says Yasmin, “Collective movement is always the best option.”

An online survey was carried out by the University of Essex’s Student Union to gain the opinion of females on this matter. More than 50 people had completed the survey with about 70% agreeing that the change should definitely be made. Off campus, however, the other representatives have collected over 150 signatures in support for the campaign.

“I do hope that more members of our university would be able to come and ensure that this campaign is successful.” Says Yasmin in her closing comment.

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