Funding fears hit community pool project at Debenham

Sir Robert Hitcham Primary School in Debenham will be the site for the new swimming pool, that can a

Sir Robert Hitcham Primary School in Debenham will be the site for the new swimming pool, that can also be used by the community. Eddie Alcock, Gavin Middleton, Sacha Feeney-Howells and Head Teacher Julia van Ek with the children. - Credit: Archant

Campaigners who have worked tirelessly to raise half the cash needed for a new community swimming pool have hit a funding block – and fear they may lose the money they have already accrued.

Villagers at Debenham have so far raised £300,000 for the new indoor heated pool, but need £600,000 to make it a reality.

The project was launched by parents of pupils at Sir Robert Hitcham Primary, and while the pool will benefit youngsters at the school and other nearby schools, it will also be a community facility.

At present people in the village who want to swim have to travel to Stowmarket or Stradbroke, and it is hoped the new pool will mean fewer journeys on rural roads to these facilities, but that having a pool closer to home will mean more people will take to the water not only for exercise but also the social benefits.

Sport England has pledged a grant of £109,000 and support has come in from a range of other organisations, including Suffolk County Council, Mid Suffolk District Council, Debenham Parish Council, local businesses, and there has been a huge amount of fundraising events – from cake bakes to quizzes, sales to sponsored runs to Women on Wheels rides – to raise many thousands of pounds.

However, major funding sources have dried up – and fresh finance is in short supply.

Sacha Feeney-Howells, chairman of the project, said: “To think we have secured £300,000 is amazing. I think that’s what we have got to hold onto and believe that we can raise the rest of the money we need.

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“But we are getting worried. It is becoming harder to raise funds – and some of those that have pledged support will only hold onto that funding for so long.

“We have pushed our deadline for the project back several times so far and Sport England has been very helpful. Like us, they want this to work.

“They have given us more time but ultimately they cannot go on holding on for us and keeping that money when so many other people also need help with projects.

“They will, at the end of the day, ask us if we have got the money and if we have to say no, that’s the end of the project.

“So it’s a race against time. And to have raised half the money it would be awful if we lost it now.

“We have so many things in place – we have a project manager Tony Bass, an excellent fundraising team, a steering committee that is fully community-based and trustees, and everyone is working hard – it’s just the money that’s the problem.

“It is so frustrating. It would be such a waste.”

One idea the campaign is looking at is to promote the pool project as a “beacon” that could be rolled out across the country, showing how one reasonable cost central scheme could bring wide benefits to a rural area of several communities rather than spending millions of pounds in total on facilities in all small villages.

Ms Feeney-Howells said it would bring huge benefits for health and well-being for all ages, instilling a life-long habit for a healthy lifestyle.

She said: “It’s about exercise and, of course, fits well with the Most Active County project, but we believe the pool will also bring benefits to help with life skills, combat isolation and loneliness, help with weight loss, mental stimulation and psychological wellbeing, and provide fun family time.”

As well as a vibrant and socially inclusive place, the pool would also have spin-off benefits for the area – bringing visitors to Debenham to use local businesses.

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