Waterside Pool in Ryde is celebrating its 50th birthday today (Thursday) – but there are challenging times ahead for the ever-popular leisure facility, especially after the loss of £20,000 of funding from Ryde Town Council.

The much-loved seaside pool, which welcomes around 1,500 swimmers a week, was opened by the Worshipful Mayor of Ryde Alderman R.V. Bourne on 24th August 1973, with funding from the then rather grand-sounding Municipal Borough of Ryde, which was abolished the following year.

Named the ‘Esplanade Bathing Pools’, it opened during hot weather in the middle of the busy Summer season and was an instant success.

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The main contractor was Walcon Ltd and, as quoted on Island Echo in 2013, retired builder Keith Edmunds remembered well the months of hard work required to turn a ‘big hole in the ground’ into a major leisure facility. Mr Edmunds was quoted as saying “looking at the pool now all those years later it fills me with a sense of pride”.

When they first opened, the bathing pools comprised an open-air trio – the present 25m swimming pool, a smaller learner pool and an even smaller paddling pool. Together they made an outdoor lido that operated during the Summer season only.

In 1973 there were very few pools on the Island and no public indoor ones. Waterside, despite its weather dependency, was hugely popular and many local children learnt to swim with a number progressing to be lifeguards for the next generation of learners.

Local Government reorganisation in 1974 led to the pools being run successfully as a civic amenity by Medina Borough Council. Fortunately for today’s users, a last gasp by Medina Borough Council before it too was abolished was to spend, spend, spend before the new Unitary Authority emptied the coffers – and resulted in a new retractable roof being added in 1994/95. As a result,  a year-round facility was born and operated by the new Isle of Wight Council’s Leisure Services team.

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David Ball headed up the Council’s sports unit at the time and recalls that the ‘great’ British weather led to the decision being made to transform the bathing pools into the year-round facility we see today. Speaking to Island Echo, David said how at the time the Island lacked quality swimming facilities so it was a real pleasure developing Waterside, which remains a valuable community asset.

Waterside is one of the only public pools in the country with a retractable roof

David’s wife, Jenny, is a well-known swimmer herself and teaches at Waterside, despite now being in her 80s. She recalls:

“Memories flood back of this wonderful pool, opened in the seventies, when it was the perfect outdoor pool for families in what seemed to always be long, hot summers! Our four kids and picnic were packed into the back of the old A40 for an afternoon at Ryde swimming pools.

“I basked in the sunshine, along with lots of other young mothers, leaning against the west-facing wall of the paved area which surrounded the three pools, watching our kids in the separate pools. I had four boys aged between 5 and 12, with very little chance to swim myself!

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“The older children had learned to swim so could enjoy the varying depths on offer at Ryde, while the youngest enjoyed playing in the shallow, splash pool nearest to watchful parents.

“Happy days indeed but so weather dependent. Now we have Waterside Pool, an all-weather facility with a retractable roof for sunny days and a wonderful array of equipment, including in-pool teaching platforms to compensate for the lack of the shallower water offered in the previous small pools.

“Fifty years on and it is a pleasure and privilege to be part of the teaching team at Waterside, where the teaching of adults of all abilities, both in groups and one-to-one, adds to the acquisition of a life skill across all generations.

“Congratulations to Waterside Pool, which has survived many setbacks and tribulations, including Covid. Long may the facility continue to enhance the Island and Ryde especially”.

Waterside as an open-air pool in the 70s

Sadly, hard times were to follow in the late 90s and early 00s and as a money-saving exercise, the Learner Pool and Paddling Pool were filled in and concreted over – although new more efficient dual fuel boilers were installed. In 2008 things got worse. The global economy entered free-fall and the Isle of Wight did not escape the deep recession that followed.

In 2009, the Isle of Wight Council announced spending cuts and the pool was scheduled to close in 2010. It was at that point the swimming pool’s fortunes began to change. At an irritated public meeting, led by Lesley Ball and Ian Jenkins, a small group emerged to try to save the pool from closure.

Signatures were gathered, meetings held and Isle of Wight Councillors were persuaded to offer the pool for sale. Waterside Community Trust Limited, comprising Ian and Lesley joined by Keith Gentleman, Mark Haslam, Andre Kurowski and Chris Wrenn became the preferred bidder.

Ryde Waterside Pool Entrance In June 2012

Aided pro bono by Nick Gale, the Trust’s solicitor, and following many months of wrangling, the group – through the new not-for-profit company and partnering with Ryde Town Council via Councillor Conrad Gauntlett – obtained a 125-year lease, which is when a Community Pool was born on 1st November 2011.

The early years were a struggle with operating costs at £1,000 per day and the Trust was grateful to receive a grant of £20,000 per year from Ryde Town Council voted by Councillors who were eager to try to keep the pool open. In 2023 though, that £20,000 of funding is no longer available and Waterside say they do not meet the criteria for a smaller funding pot from Ryde Town Council.

In 2017 the Trust became a registered charity and today that charity, having survived the pandemic, enjoys a great relationship with local government officers at County Hall and teaches thousands of local children every year. It’s estimated around 700 children a month learn to swim at Waterside, on top of the many school groups that use the facility.


Todd Miller was appointed General Manager in 2016 and has built on the early successes, expanding the charity to encompass Beach Lifeguarding in both Ryde and Sandown, sea safety training, lifeguard training and a revitalized swimming club.

With the continuing support of pool users, pool members and all those who care about the amenities available in the public realm on our Island the charity looks forward to a secure future.

Todd has said:

“Waterside Pool is an essential leisure provision for the Island, which is evident by its 50 years of loyal service, with the Centre busier than ever. It is rare for a pool to survive finically as a stand-alone facility, which is why continued financial support is essential to its future.

“With the increases in utility costs and the withdrawal of financial support from Ryde Town Council, it will be challenging times ahead. We cannot thank everyone enough for their continued support of the Centre, and we hope the Centre is able to deliver a further 50 years of service to its community”.

Ryde Town Council wishes to provide accurate information to ensure transparency and clarity. It is said that Waterside Pool’s funding application for the 2023/24 budget was voluntarily withdrawn by them on 29th November 2022. Waterside says it does not meet the ‘new’ criteria set out by Ryde Town Council for a smaller funding pot.


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The views/opinions expressed in these comments are solely those of the author and do not represent those of Island Echo. House rules on commenting must be followed at all times.
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Jimmy Saveloy
Jimmy Saveloy
9 months ago

IOW is behind the times as usual. Many community swimming pools around the country are implementing sustainable, environmentally friendly heating systems but not here it seems. A combination of heat pumps and solar panels could secure the future of this important resource and help improve the health of islanders, without costing a fortune. There must be grants out there that would pay a lot of the cost.

Jim Bean
Jim Bean
Reply to  Jimmy Saveloy
9 months ago

You clearly live under a rock because this is already happening at Medina and other sites will follow.

Jimmy Saveloy
Jimmy Saveloy
Reply to  Jim Bean
9 months ago

I clearly lack your inside information about a different swimming pool. Hopefully, the pool in the article will benefit in the same way. Now get back in your box Mr Bean.


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