Wicklow sports club’s are finding the road to recovery post-lockdowns a long one, and it has been particularly hard for Bray swimming club Titans.
Based at Shoreline Leisure Centre, Titans Swimming Club found the dependable, steady conveyor belt of young swimmers joining to advance as competitive swimmers grind down to a halt. Pool time for their members to train comes at a premium and at an ever-increasing cost. With members and volunteers dwindling, concerns about the club’s future are high, but the one bright spot is the continued success of the swimmers that remain.
Chairperson Santi Ibarz said: “We had some good success last year, getting medals in National Championships, but swimming was one of the worst hit sports with lockdown. We only swam five months out of 18 months. Finding ways to keep the kids entertained, the coaches engaged, was the main challenge. We did a lot of Zoom physical training. When we could swim again, we had lane number restrictions to deal with. We got some funding from Swim Ireland, which was great and that kept the club alive.”
Santi added: “There are no feeders (new swimmers) coming from younger ages because there were no swimming lessons (during lockdown). Swimmers come to us already able to swim and with the loss of swimming lesson for kids during the darkest days of the pandemic, we now have a gap in our membership.”
Titans SC is eight years old and has more than 100 members. They are a competitive club governed by Swim Ireland that prides itself on being inclusive. Among their members are competitive para-swimmers and Ukrainian refugees.
Swim Ireland club memberships run from September 1 to August 31, so they are currently going through renewals and recruitment processes. Membership fees provide the funds that pay for their seven pool sessions per week and the three professional and two assistant coaches who run those. A typical competitive swimmer in Titans would also do two hours of gym training on top of 12 hours of swimming per week.
These are all now rising costs, and it’s unclear whether the club can keep up.
Santi said: “We swim 10 months of the year, from September to June, and then our competitive swimmers swim in July at competitions. We pay Shoreline a fee per hour, per lane. We need to make sure we use our timetable as best as we can.
“We expect costs will rise in January and there are rumours that pools are suffering and might have to close potentially, but we have no evidence of this, it is just rumours at this stage. We’re okay to the end of the year, but January may be a challenge."
Santi added: “We’re also hosting two competitive Ukranian refugee swimmers and we have to find ways to pay for their swimming needs.”
Shoreline Leisure Centre is also dealing with rising costs and Santi was quick to praise their team for efforts maintaining the pool through this. Many facilities are having to reduce pool temperatures as heating costs rise exponentially.
“I haven’t heard any complaints about the pool being too cold,” said Santi. “The pool is covered at night and Shoreline are managing the situation well. We, as swimmers, prefer a pool that is cooler than say a hotel pool. It is better for swimmers anyway.”
The club also needs volunteers to manage it via a committee. In a children’s swimming club these volunteers are normally the parents of swimmers. With less swimmers, the potential volunteer pool is smaller, and committee members also have a limited term.
"The club is run by a volunteer committee that in accordance with Swim Ireland rules can serve for a maximum of four years before having to step away completely,” explained Santi. “The present committee will step down at the end of this season and we’ll have to find people to replace us. We are a small club unlike say a GAA club (for finding volunteers), and it is an expensive sport.”
Santi concluded: “We got a grant from Swim Ireland that kept us afloat during Covid and we are very grateful for that. We have a grant at the moment to train up coaches and volunteers. But in terms of grants to help with membership, we don’t have anything for that.
“We need the feeder system of children’s swimming lessons to continue, this gives us new members. We would like financial sponsors to help with the running of the club and in the case of our Ukranian refugees, sponsorship would be a great help.
"They are very good swimmers and their fees last year were kindly paid by a donation, and now we need fees for this year to be covered if possible by a sponsor. Membership of Titans Swim Club costs from €90 per month to €200 per month – it depends on the pool time and coaching time. The sport needs very technical coaching and this is an expense we must cover.”