Happy to get hearts pumping again


STILL WATERS RUN DEEP  Claremorris Swimming Pool will not be as quiet as this when they reopen on Monday next.

Claremorris Leisure Centre Manager thrilled to be reopening

Anton McNulty

Back in the spring when the coronavirus first reached these shores, the thought of contaminated droplets spreading through the air from extensive workouts was enough to send the country’s eminent virologists into a cold sweat.
Along with pubs and nightclubs, they wanted gyms, pools and leisure centres closed, and they got their wish on March 12 when they were among the first public buildings to shut their doors.
Fast forward three months, and they still remain shuttered – but the leisure sector got good news on Friday when Leo Varadkar brought forward the opening date to this Monday, June 29.
It was music to the ears of Karen Loftus, the Manager of the Claremorris Leisure Centre, who told The Mayo News that they were planning on opening as soon as they were permitted to do so by the government.

Centre of the community
Located on Dalton Street in the heart of Claremorris, the complex was constructed in 2009 and contains a 25m swimming pool, a gym, a steam room, a sauna and a jacuzzi and provides fitness classes and activities for all ages.
Karen maintains that the leisure centre’s sooner-than-expected reopening is not only good news for her staff, it is also good news for the town.
“Claremorris is very much known as a swimming town, so it is very important that we get the swimming pool back up and running and open for the community. Community is the centre of everything we do. We are based in the main street in Claremorris, and it is great for social integration and getting people out of the house once or twice a week,” she explained.
“People are anxious to get going and get out and get the children out as well and have activities for them to go to as a family.
I think people will be looking for something to do and will be looking for as much normality as they can get.”

When speaking to The Mayo News Karen said they were still awaiting the feedback from their governing body, Ireland Active, on what guidelines they will have to follow, but she envisages changes in every area of the leisure centre. These include disinfection stations and social distancing. Gym sessions will likely have to be booked and limited to one hour.
The steam room, sauna and jacuzzi will be closed indefinitely, while question marks still remain over the use of the showers. Hairdryers and hand dryers will be prohibited. The swimming pool area will have to be cleaned down after every one-hour session, and there will be other changes to how it operates.
“We will have to look at the guidelines when they come out and see what they stipulate. As we got closer and closer to the day we have been planning to reopen, but as we get information we have to be reactive to the information we get,” she said.
However, she is keen to reassure the public that the centre will definitely be reopening, despite the obstacles. While the centre has been closed for the past three months, they have still incurred running costs, such as swimming-pool maintenance. As a result, the centre has suffered financially. Karen feels the State wage subsidies will have to be extended if it is to remain open.
“I would hope the wage subsidy scheme would go on past August for an industry like ourselves, because it will be vital. We have 28 staff and a lot of part-time staff, and to stay open we rely on our income from the activities we run. Obviously, with a reduced capacity we will have a reduced income, so we would hope that the Government keeps that going past August.”

Safety first
Karen and her colleagues in other leisure centres around the country have been taking part in webinars with Active Ireland, which has been giving advice on what to expect when the sector reopens. The experience of gyms in countries where restrictions were lifted suggest that uptake has been slow, but Karen believes that the safety measures taken will build confidence among members and new customers.
“There will be more social distancing in the gym and in the fitness classes and the pool, but I feel everybody is very much aware of the social distancing.
“The challenge is to ensure people feel comfortable and safe when they come into the building. Once people know there will be boundaries and spaces marked out, people will feel comfortable. We will be making everyone aware that it is a safe environment,” she said, adding that while there will be changes, people will get used to them, just as they have done in other aspects of life.
“There will be a lot of people going back to work who want to get out and about again who have been at home. I don’t know how much the over 70s will be out and about. It is for them to determine themselves when they feel comfortable going out, but it is up to us as a leisure centre to make sure they feel comfortable using our facility.”