On Saturday 8 June, ten local people aged from 2 to 83 became the very first swimmers in the new pool at Riverside Leisure Centre, Chelmsford.
Riverside reopened to the public today after a two-year project to completely transform and rebuild the centre, which had served the public for over 40 years, into a much bigger and more modern leisure complex.
To mark the occasion, Chelmsford City Council held a competition in May to find ten Chelmsford people with inspirational stories to be the very first into the pool. Nominations poured in from across the city and its surrounding villages. Judging them was the task of the Mayor of Chelmsford, Councillor Bob Massey, and the Cabinet Member for Safer Chelmsford, Councillor Jude Deakin.
Councillor Massey said, "Judging the nominations was not an easy task. There were so many incredible stories of people overcoming immense challenges and showing enormous compassion for others. Reading them all made me feel very proud of the many people quietly doing incredible things every day in our city - it was wonderful to have a chance to recognise some of them."
At 9.30am on Saturday, the selected First Swimmers arrived at the new Riverside and were presented with their very own embroidered Riverside robes by Councillor Deakin and her Deputy, Councillor Rose Moore. They were the first to try out the new changing rooms, which are right next to the pool and include state-of-the art Changing Places, which are fully accessible changing and showering facilities with hoists.
At 10am, the swimmers lined up on the starting blocks one-by-one in Olympic style. Each swimmer was given their own lane, with some younger ones accompanied by adults. Friends and family cheered them on as they leapt into the water and swam the very first lengths ever to be swum in the new pool.
The First Swimmers were:
- Winnie D'Arcy (2), who has brittle bone disease and has fractured over 50 bones. Winnie wasn't able to get into the pool due to a broken leg, but still came along to smile and cheer the others on.
- Isabella Cheshire (8), who along with her brother Noah has been the inspiration for the Ark Centre charity set up by her parents. All the therapists Isabella had access to in her early years are now available to lots of children with autism, helping more families to cope with day-to-day struggles.
- Alfie Rainbird (14), nominated by his mum Taryn.
- Charlie Little (16), who sadly was not able to attend.
- Greg John, who used to weigh 18 stone and over the course of 10 years has transformed himself into an eight-times marathon runner, cyclist , swimmer and triathlete. Greg's nomination said that he "inspires everyone he meets to view their mental health as importantly as their physical health and to invest time in it."
- Maxine Jones, volunteer leader for Girlguiding Essex North East. Maxine runs a community radio show with her girlguides, who have been lobbying about period poverty. Maxine has worked voluntarily on a partnership with Essex Cricket in the community and Girlguiding Anglia to encourage girls and young women to take up cricket.
- Paul Skilton, the local Lions Club chairman who is involved in multiple community initiatives, from marshalling at charity fun runs and bike rides to litter picking and duck racing - all to aid local charities.
- Helen Silverman, aged 83, a long-standing customer of the old Riverside centre who was nominated by six members of staff there for her zest for life and constant kindness to others despite going through a difficult time recently.
- Lucy Harding, who has worked tirelessly over the last ten years to set up the charity Dementia Adventure, which has helped many people in the community and their carers.
- Julie Judd, who was one of the two very first people to swim in the old Riverside pool in 1965, then aged 12. Julie brought along a scrapbook she had kept of the news cuttings from the time.
There was also a First Flumer: Cait Cotter, aged 11, who was selected to be the very first person to use the brand-new Riverside flume. She has worked through the challenge of having Phenylketonuria (PKU) to become a double Essex champion in two of the most gruelling swimming events, 400m medley and 200m butterfly, training eight times a week with Chelmsford City Swimming Club. Cait was accompanied by her three friends, Francesca, Olivia and Lisa, who are also aged 11.
Councillor Deakin said, "The opening of a new leisure centre requires a little bit of ceremony, and many venues spend thousands of pounds on booking celebrities to cut a ribbon. I'm extremely pleased that in Chelmsford, we could instead use the occasion to recognise and thank some local residents who deserve a special time. I am delighted to have been part of this event and to have met some wonderful people - I hope they have taken away some very happy memories from the day."
Find out more about the new Riverside at www.chelmsford.gov.uk/leisure-centres or follow @riverside.centre on Facebook.
Monday 10 June 2019.