Opinion: Aloha, Bedford! Oasis Beach Pool party brings Hawaii to town

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Violet Alison (10) and Eleanor Casey (11) enjoying the Oasis Beach Pool party. Image: Bedford Independent
Violet Alison (10) and Eleanor Casey (11) enjoying the Oasis Beach Pool party. Image: Bedford Independent

Oasis Beach Pool officially opened today (Tuesday) and hundreds of Bedfordians came along to celebrate ‘Hawaiian style’, and I loved it.

Walking into the centre I had goosebumps on my arms as I was met with a roar of laughter and screams of delight, mixed with the warmth you expect from an indoor beach pool and the sound of a steel drum band, everyone was having a great time.

People were dressed in Hawaiian shirts, lei flower garlands were being handed out and the cafe was even serving fruit punch in ‘coconut’ bowls.

Just a few weeks ago, the Bedford Independent was given an exclusive look around the pool.

While the chance to see the work that had been done so far was welcome, it was still empty and lifeless, but today with water lovers inside, the place has been transformed into what it’s meant to be – a great place for families to have fun.

Read: Oasis Beach Pool opening date set as new management promises ‘customers will come first

After sending my partner’s child and her friend off to the pool, I took a look around and soaked up the atmosphere with Cllr Gallagher (Conservative), the portfolio holder for leisure and culture who is really pleased with how things have turned out.

“Everybody’s having a good time. There are loads of smiles, loads of happy children, everything seems to be working and it’s a party atmosphere.” It’s really good,” she said.

While the pool itself has been open for a week, to test everything works, today marked a significant step in the pool’s future, after £500,000 being invested into the centre.

But, before you go along expecting a brand new building, much of where that money has been spent won’t be visible to the public.

Behind-the-scenes upgrades

Instead, that money has been mostly used to make sure the water is always warm, the slides always work, and the cafe and party areas are delivering great service, as Gillan Kelly, partnerships manager at GLL explains.

“A lot of the the effort and spend has gone into making sure that the plant is up to the specification needed, the boring stuff that you wouldn’t see. It’s behind the scenes, but it means the centre will run as it should and is more reliable.

“But, we’ve also made accessibilty improvements, the reception area has been remodelled, and the gym has been repurposed into a party room.

“We’ve also updated the basics like cubicle locks, locker wristbands, toilets and changing rooms.”

And while those improvements might have to be experienced by other senses to understand the benefit, there will be some more visual improvements in the coming too.

“We are looking at what we can do with the outside areas that seem to get a load of litter and look very untidy at times, plus more facilities too, things like paddle Sports, skate park ramps, you name it, we’re looking at it,” said Cllr Gallagher.

‘We’re also looking at the outside pool and have to weigh up the cost of that to see whether it’s viable to have the outside bit done.

“But, I can assure you the Council is looking at absolutely everything because we want what’s good for the residents of the Borough and already we’ve made a big difference, just look around there’s not a sad person’s face.”

Oasis swimming pool is often described as dirty and an eye-sore
The exterior of Oasis swimming pool is often described as dirty and an eye-sore but Bedford Borough Council and GLL say they have plans to change that

And Cllr Gallagher was right. Looking around everyone had a smile on their face, everyone was having a good time, and the atmosphere was exactly what you’d hope to experience at a beach pool.

GLL have had a big uphill climb, they took over a pool (and several other leisure facilities) with some major problems.

They’ve not shied away from that challenge though and while there’s still a lot of work to be done, they have tackled what’s important first, warm water (I was told it was 30º today), slides that work when scheduled to be, and new food and party offerings.

Changing rooms

Sadly, they still seem to have issues with changing room cleanliness. Bedford Independent readers have commented that staff need to check the changing rooms more regularly, but Gillan says they’re listening to that feedback.

“The feedback has been generally really, really positive. But, we are listening to all customers and doing what we can to make sure they get what they expect when they arrive.”

Of course, Oasis Beach Pool staff should be making sure that the changing rooms are clean regularly. But, Bedfordians, you too can do your bit in making sure our Borough’s beach pool is left clean when you leave.

There are bins around the site ready to be used and if you do spill something a staff member will happily help clear it up if you tell them.

I don’t mean for that to sound bossy, but I don’t think some of us know how lucky we are to have this pool on our doorstep. Where I grew up we had a pool with a wave machine and an open-air pool. Both are now closed.

To see so many families and young people (630 booked in today) making the most of Oasis was a real treat. It really brought a smile to my face.

But, I was only watching from the sidelines, Violet Alison, 10, told me what it was like as a swimmer.

Oasis Beach Pool is officially open. (l-r) General Manager, Ricky Whiting; Mayor Tom Wootton; Cllr Sarah Gallager; CEO Bedford Borough Council, Laura Church; CEO GLL, Peter Bundey. Image: Bedford Borough Council.
Oasis Beach Pool is officially open. (l-r) General Manager, Ricky Whiting; Mayor Tom Wootton; Cllr Sarah Gallager; CEO Bedford Borough Council, Laura Church; CEO GLL, Peter Bundey. Image: Bedford Borough Council.

“I loved it. I really liked the waves in the pool and me and my friend Eleanor had a go on the slides and there was this little pool area with loads of bubbles and I liked floating on top of them.

“But the changing rooms had tissues and coffee spilled on the ground.

“Afterwards, the food was, really nice. The chips were so nice and the paninis with cheese and pesto are really nice. I would call it my girl dinner.”

High praise indeed, and a good job too as it will be young Bedfordians who will be the main customers, with three new party rooms to book and various SEND sessions available for those who need it as well.

Since I’ve lived in Bedford, Oasis has always been a source of debate as to whether it’s any good or not. Some of the criticisms have indeed been justified but we’ve got a new operator looking after it now and I really feel they want to do what’s best.

GLL aren’t avoiding our questions, they’re not moaning about scrutiny, I really believe they’re taking their responsibility for Bedford’s leisure facilities seriously.

We need to make sure they have feedback when things don’t go right, but we also need to tell them when things go well, and it’s pleasing to see on our own social pages that for every negative comment there are several positive ones.

And Gillan says, it’s Bedfordians that will really secure Oasis’ future, “It’s great to see a centre that’s so iconic and so valued and loved in Bedford coming back to life, seeing the numbers of people coming through,” he said.

It will be interesting to see how external upgrades like the outdoor pool are managed and what can be done about the way the pool looks from the outside. But, for now, don’t judge a book by its cover – give Oasis Beech Pool a chance.

 


 


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