Posts Tagged ‘Local Councils’

Scrutinising sporting facilities – and why it matters

Posted on 6th May 2010 by

Following my blog post about scrutinising swimming pools I’ve now got myself a website that I hope can act as a place where I can gather information about how good/bad swimming facilities are and how they can get better.

The Where Can We Swim website

I’ve started blogging on the site, but I’ve also put together a wiki – that still needs some work – where anyone can contribute to a debate over the condition of swimming pools in the city. I’m hoping I can also collect some basic information about swimming pools in the city and use this to compare it to other cities.

I’m interested in seeing how these two very simple tools can add to a debate over the provision of swimming in the run up to the 2012 London Olympics. It seems a long time ago now, but when the bid for the games was made its strongest suit was the sporting legacy it would leave behind. That wasn’t just in London; there was a commitment to improve facilities across the UK.

What’s this got to do with scrutiny?

It seems to me that we should all be involved in evaluating the sporting legacy that the Olympic Games in London is providing. In Birmingham, for example, there was a lot of noise about a project to build an Olympic-sized swimming pool for the city that would be in place before the 2012 games. That noise hasn’t amounted to much at the moment, except a lot of people who are unhappy about where it’s going and others, including the Amateur Swimming Association, who are peeved that it has been held up.

What did the Olympics ever do for us?

Imagine, for a moment, what will happen in two years’ time when the Olympics is all over. We’ll be left with a few gold medals and – perhaps – some nice new facilities. But will the legacy, trumpeted by the Olympic Games bid team, have been fulfilled? And who gets to decide whether or not it has been?

Since the facilities have been built for us, I reckon that we should be the ones who get to decide. But how on earth does one go about that? A big survey? A phone vote on Radio 5? And what, exactly, will be the point? If we’ve missed the boat and we don’t get the legacy we think we deserve and were promised who can we blame?

That’s why I think the idea of scrutinising the Olympic legacy ourselves (and when I say ‘ourselves’ I mean anyone who cares) is so crucial. How should the funding we’ve got be spent?  What is wrong with the facilities we have and how would you build new ones?

In a sense, bodies like the Amateur Swimming Association and our own politicians will do this anyway. But surely interested citizens, who care about the facilities they use, could become involved in that kind of scrutiny at a local level. Given that we’re about to get a new government and there’s been a financial crisis, there’s a lot to be vigilant about. That’s what I hope the Where Can We Swim site can start, in a very small way, to be about. It’s really just a very modest exploration of what happens when one person asks a question about one particular aspect of a local service.

Scrutinising swimming pool facilities

Posted on 23rd March 2010 by

I’ve been a bit annoyed with the provision of swimming facilities here in Brum for a while. Nick Booth suggested I compare them with those of the other core cities to see how Birmingham rated. So I’ve just had a little go.

What I did

First I went to each council’s website, found its list of leisure facilities and then checked each one to work out which were swimming pools. Occasionally, in the case of Manchester, that was easy because it was quite handy. In other cases it was a pain, because the council had different ideas about presentation. Anyway, I managed to make a crude tally of the number of pool facilities.

I wanted to do more, but as this spreadsheet shows it’s hard to get all the data.

Newcastle Swimming Pools

Some councils provide more information than others, some are completely inconsistent about what they do present. You’ll also see that, scandalously, I’ve added some Scottish cities and left out the likes of Sheffield in my list.

I then had a look on the same sites for population statistics. I didn’t always find them. On some occasions the website provided a mid-2008 census estimate, and sometimes it was just the numbers from the 2001 census. Sometimes it was in a nice HTML format, and other times it was buried in a PDF.

What I produced

I managed to collate the information into this incredibly crude spreadsheet, where I divided the population of the city by the number of pool facilities.

Swimming pool comparison

I then used Many Eyes to upload my spreadsheet and turn it into a visualisation, which you can see here:-

Now, this isn’t a great analysis. After all, Birmingham has Moseley Road Baths, which is something like 20m long, while the Manchester Aquatics Centre has two 50m pools in one facility. Yet they each get a score of one. Deeply unfair. If I could find out how long and how wide each pool was then I could add it all up and then compare the total swimming area to population. But that depth (pun intended) of information isn’t available.

So what does this mean?
For me this is a scrutiny issue, because working out how Birmingham compares to other cities in terms of facilities helps us to understand whether it needs to improve. But the information isn’t there, or if it is it’s inconsistent. And it’s not just geeks who’d like to know how big a swimming pool is, how long it’s open for and even how warm it is. It’s all information that’s relevant to users.

What can be done?
Making comparisons between councils’ services would be made easier if we all were engaged in a discussion about what information needs to be made available and in what formats that information is presented in.

As this little experiment demonstrates, it’s not technically challenging to collect data and then use a free, web-based tool like Many Eyes to interpret it. And, for the time being, I’m considering setting up a site that looks specifically at swimming pools to work out how that process could become more useful and accurate.

Camera crews and new venues: January's Social Media Surgery

Posted on 10th February 2010 by

As we look forward to February’s Central Birmingham Social Media Surgery tomorrow, I thought I’d reflect quickly on last month’s.

One obvious highlight was the arrival of television cameras. Since the last event I went down to was November’s – where a German Camera crew was shooting – I’m beginning to think the presence of a film crew is a pre-requisite to a proper surgery!

This time the crew was there to see that social media can be used for a good cause as well as a bad, as part of a BBC Midlands Today piece that concentrated on how protest groups – including the English Defence League – have boosted turnout at their rallies by using sites like Twitter and Facebook. There was a good turnout or our own for them to film and Nick Booth put them straight, pointing out that in the right hands social media can do an awful lot of good.

I got a taste of this myself as I sat in on a session helping out the blog for Danny Reeves’ and Dave Morris’s climb to the top of Kilimanjaro. Danny and Dave, as I can see from looking at the blog, have reached the summit now – and raised more than £11,000 for Macmillan Cancer Support – exceeding their own combined target by more than a thousand pounds.

We were also in our first surgery in thestudio. Yep, it’s called thestudio, not The Studio, which might seem a lot more sensible, but is presumably a lot harder to trademark. The most brilliant thing about thestudio, aside from the fact that the venue has offered itself for free, is that it is in central Birmingham. Smack bang in the middle, in fact.

Hopefully that will ensure we meet the trade descriptions act – and that it makes it easier for more organisations and people to come down and get involved. And there’s a pub right across the road. Not a bad a location, then, really.