I’ve lived in South London for 9 years, with many of those years spent in Herne Hill. Back in those days, I used to go to West Norwood to go to B&Q and once to the self storage centre. It felt slightly alien – more suburban than zone 2 Herne Hill and much poorer and dirtier. Fast forward a few years and I’ve been priced out of Herne Hill and East Dulwich and now live in West Norwood.
One of the things West Norwood has going for it is a brand new leisure centre. I remember visiting a friend 2 years ago and the centre was being built, due to open in Autumn 2013… Then spring 2014… Then summer 2014… Then, finally, July 2014. Hooray!
I decided to check out the pool (I’m only really interested in the pool, rather than the gym or other facilities on offer), though this plan was hampered slightly by reduced opening hours for the first fortnight (midday – 8pm). I’d really rather swim before work and look forward to the pool being open at more suitable hours.
The entrance to the leisure centre is opposite the station, up a drive. I’m unsure whether it will seem dodgy in the dark.
I locked my bike up on the ample, covered bike racks. This is a nice touch.
Once inside, I joined the queue at the reception desk. There are machines that you can use if you’re a member but non-members (or anyone asking a question) have to queue up. There were 3 people behind the desk, although 2 were studiously ignoring everyone and the other was on the phone as well as trying to book people in. I had to wait more than 5 minutes to be seen, despite other members of staff milling about.
“Just a swim, please”, I asked.
“That’ll be £4.20. Oh, and there’s only one lane open”, I was told.
I’m not massively au fait with swimming prices in London’s famous London but this seems quite steep. I handed over my cash and didn’t ask about lockers, feeling a bit like a mystery shopper. Minutes later I felt like an idiot as the lockers needed a pound coin and I obviously didn’t have one and had to go back to the reception area wearing only my swimming costume.
The changing rooms are signposted as Toilets and once inside there is an array of identical blue-doored cubicles, some with showers, some with toilets, some with changing benches.
Pound coin finally in hand, I left my stuff in a locker and safety pinned the key to my costume. I much prefer lockers with padlocks, as I have a combination padlock and don’t have to worry about coins or keys.
In the pool, there was an aqua aerobics class going on, although there appeared to be very little aerobic activity from the class participants. There was also an adult swimming lesson in the far lane, leaving two lanes in the middle for lane swimming. I got in to the lane not marked as a slow lane and set off, accompanied by the blaring music from the aqua aerobics class.
The water was cooler than my usual pool (thank goodness!) and a sign outside said that it was 28 degrees. It was clean, bar a few hair bands on the bottom and the omnipresent floating plaster. The pool is chlorinated but not too badly, meaning my skin didn’t feel like it was burning. I kept my goggles on anyway.
Although the lane next to mine was marked as slow, the swimmers in my lane were very slow. Lots of head-up breaststroke and wonky backstroke. No one seemed impressed by me overtaking, although I tried to do it unobtrusively. As with every pool I’ve been to, the lifeguards did nothing and slow people were not encouraged to move to a more appropriate lane.
Towards the end of the session the pool emptied out as both classes finished and the slow swimmers left the pool. I was really getting into it – reach, extend, rotate, even turning well – and would have stayed for longer but had to call it a day after 40 lengths.
I spoke to a staff member on the way out about private lessons and was told that they don’t have enough instructors at the moment to offer this (something I wasn’t told when I originally left my number). The staff seemed friendly though, and hopefully someone will eventually get in touch.
I threw some clothes on and left without showering – one of the joys of the leisure centre is that it’s 5 minutes from my house. I’ll be back – this is a nice pool in a (for me!) fantastic location, although I’ll probably get a membership as it’s a significant saving (£22 per month, as opposed to £4.20 per swim).