By Mercedes Gentry-Peacock 

The campaign to reopen the Crystal Palace Diving Pool, drained (literally) by Covid and currently abandoned, has found itself a bit of traction recently. But really, why isn’t more being made of it? Many speak of the potential injustice of a marvellous London sporting facility being lost and forgotten, and they’d be quite right, we all love this brutalist beauty of the 60s, but aren’t there bigger issues at hand here? 

Children’s Mental Health 

The mental health of children has thrown up frightening statistics over recent years. One in six school-aged children is known to have a mental health problem. Anxiety is rife. Mental health services are being called upon by our young people more than ever. Our children are struggling, and I see it at school first-hand. Crystal Palace Diving Club had 400+ divers on its books pre-COVID. Children ranging from 5 to 18, showing up daily to learn a gruelling sport. Those boards are high. If you’ve ever been in the Crystal Palace National Sports Centre and wandered down to the diving pool (it pulls many a spectator), you’ll witness a spectacle of ordered chaos – it’s loud, it’s busy, it’s too hot in the summer and too cold by Christmas, it’s impressive. Coaches are calling up poolside (it’s not always clear to the humble spectator to who), tiny people are hanging out 10 metres above ground level ready to plunge headlong, 4 or 5 dives are happening at once. It’s a frenzy. But amongst this seeming disorder every kid there knows their place, there’s an understanding, they find control, they learn something new on each dive, they get it wrong and get it wrong then get it right and it’s a wonder to watch. They don’t have to be there. They could have quit months ago. Many of these divers train 5 or 6 days a week and have done from early ages. They are fully focused on honing their craft, a difficult one at that. Come on, Mayor Khan, shouldn’t this mean more? Focus, resilience, perseverance, learning through failure, taking yourself out of your comfort zone. Real skills needed for real life learnt in real time. As a teacher, I bore my pupils bonkers with the importance of these dispositions. I’m pretty sure I’m not alone as a teacher in thinking they’re more important than academic achievement. The Crystal Palace divers are learning through doing. Lifelong skills for their future, for our future, for future jobs which haven’t even been invented yet. Shouldn’t this be considered the utmost importance? These kids have spent the last 18 months travelling to Southampton, Southend and Tunbridge Wells, hours in the car for snatched moments of pool-time. 300 have quit. Do we not owe it to the 100, and ourselves, and those new and interested athletes, the purpose and reward in sticking something out, showing up when things are tough and persevering despite the odds?  

Healthy Relationships 

Tender is an important charity devoted to the promotion of healthy relationships amongst children and adults. Their campaign for primary school children is to “build strong foundations through exploring healthy friendships and family relationships”. This is key. Tender has very recently visited my school to offer training to all teachers surrounding our children’s relationships. I’ve been privileged enough to watch several of the elite training sessions at CPDC. These kids champion each other and they respect each other. Watching a child learn a new dive must be one of the most frightening and fulfilling things to witness. It’s amazing how often the divers don’t dive, perched at the end of the board unable (again, literally) to take the plunge. Of course! It’s bloody scary. But be patient and watch carefully and magic occurs in these moments. Their teammates offer a couple of words of encouragement, there’s a stolen fist bump, there’s a look of ‘you’ve got this’. That togetherness is what it’s about. They have each other’s backs, they respect and admire each other, regardless of anything other than that they are a diver, and they matter. There’s a healthy level of competition and they cope with this with impressive emotional intelligence. They’re a team, they offer support and sensitivity to each other. And the applause and cheers that echo round the centre when a diver, regardless of age or ability or gender, finally finds the resolve (ripped dive or splashy smack into the water) – what a moment. These young people are learning to support and honour each other. This should really matter.  

Childhood Physical Health 

The UK has one of the highest rates of childhood obesity in Europe. In 2018, around 1 in 10 children aged 4 to 5 were classified as obese alongside 1 in 5 children aged 10 to 11. There are many other frightening statistics out there, but you get the gist, and my point. Many of the children training at some of the higher levels at CPDC are teens or just turning teens. A difficult age as we know – I myself left behind a (mediocre) tennis career in favour of friends and pubs and the prospect of a lock-in on the High Street. No Emma Raducanu talent/commitment there, unfortunately. My school favoured academics over sport so activity was limited there too. Quite frankly I became near sedentary at 15, my main exercise coming from necessary walks when my parents finally had enough of ferrying me to parties. And I wasn’t even under the spell of a smart device back then. These divers are postponing this, some are managing to juggle both their sport and their social, some are so focused it’s not even on their radar. They’re giving themselves another choice. They’re showing up to tough training, hours of conditioning and trampoline work in the gym, precision moves practised to perfection, building strong cores alongside strong mental attitudes. They’re committing to a sport with high stakes. These guys are fit, they’re strong, they’re healthy in body and mind and they’re setting themselves up for healthy lives. We clapped the NHS for months – these guys are doing something towards protecting its (and their) future. Shouldn’t this, too, be applauded?  

Please, please, let’s not underestimate this struggling facility in a south easterly corner of London and how it is helping towards tackling much bigger issues when it comes to our children, incrementally, and with very little support. Crystal Palace Diving Club is still going, despite the odds. This club and this diving pool should mean much more to us all.  

Please, Mayor Khan, fix the pool.