I’m near the shallow end of Dagenham indoor pool and standing on the pedals of a BMX bike. My instructor, Ross, is showing me how to suck my legs up to get more air from a bunnyhop. Around me, younger and more agile riders show off daring tricks, many tackling steep ramps and boxes which help throw them through the air, only to land effortlessly nearly every time.
This is not what you would expect to see at a public baths on a Sunday afternoon but at Dagenham Pool the smell of chlorine and the sight of boys flicking towels at each other have gone. Although the structure and most of the interior of the 1970s baths remain, what’s obviously missing is the water, which was drained from both pools so their tiled walls and floors could be covered over to give Dagenham one of the best freestyle BMX parks outside of the US.
Dagenham swimming pool will be demolished to be replaced by the council’s brand new community leisure centre with a 25-metre pool. The Becontree Heath facility has already opened next door and the old public baths will soon be flattened to offer more parking space for its new neighbour. This gave sportswear manufacturer Nike a window to realise “The Pool” project at Dagenham baths.
After the council gave the project the green light, Nike quickly brought in 15 workers who used 3,000 metres of wood, 10,000 nails and 75,000 screws to build the indoor park. The facility will be open for one month only and industry experts say the ambitious project, including running costs, will hit Nike for several hundred thousand pounds. Some people in this corner of east London have baulked at the cost of the park, but the obvious success that it is currently enjoying will do little harm to Nike’s image with a sometimes skeptical urban sport crowd who are known to feel uneasy about large companies pouring money into their sports.
The pool certainly seems to have been embraced by BMX riders since it opened in May. In the past few weeks estimated visitor numbers have hit nearly 4,000 in total. Its popularity is no doubt helped by the free admission offered to riders.
Bikes and safety equipment can be borrowed and professional riders are on hand to teach tricks. Competitions drawing in some of the best professional riders have also created buzz around the project. Top riders in the BMX world recently flew in for the opening session or “jam” to compete for big prize money.
But with only days left before the plug is finally pulled on the bike park – it closes this Sunday – many of the local young riders who use it will be sad to see it torn down. Charlie Starns, 15, from Romford, has been riding at The Pool most days since it opened and likes the facility because it offers him and his friends a “safe indoor park which is free to use”.
Others have started a Facebook campaign, which has over 3,000 supporters, all hoping that the project will continue. For now the local community will have to be satisfied that when it does finally shut, Nike will donate many of the bikes it has used to local schools and community groups, and there’s also talk of using some of the park’s timber to furnish an alternative BMX venue in the area.