A MOTHER has accused the company that runs Croydon's leisure centres of putting money ahead of safety after it decided children's swimming lessons no longer require a lifeguard.
Liz Marsden's two children – Hannah, 6, and Zoe, 5 – attend a weekly swim school at Purley Leisure Centre.
Until recently parents were able to watch the Saturday morning class, which is taught in the learning pool, once a term.
Mrs Marsden and other parents have been told that is no longer an option because the teacher will be acting as a lifeguard as well as instructing the children.
She believes leaving the class without a lifeguard could compromise safety in an emergency.
When she raised her concerns with a manager she was told the decision had been made centrally by Fusion Leisure, which runs five leisure centres in Croydon for the council, and the impression she got was it is a cost-cutting measure.
Fusion Leisure initially refused to comment but has since confirmed the decision affects all its leisure centres in Croydon and elsewhere in London.
It said the decision had been taken after reviewing "best practice" in the industry.
Hannah and Zoe have been going to the swim school in Purley since January. The class is taught in the learning pool, which is in a separate room to the main pool, and had been manned by a lifeguard.
Mrs Marsden said: "Fusion have not thought through what could happen in an emergency. The teachers are brilliant, but they aren't superhuman.
"There are lifeguards in the main pool but, in a worst case scenario, they would have to raise the alarm and get someone to cover their classes. For the price of having one lifeguard for an hour, it doesn't seem worth the risk.
"It seems to me to be a purely economic decision rather than thinking of the safety of the children."
Mrs Marsden's concern has been compounded by the mixed messages she has received since raising the issue with a manager.
"The impression I got was that he is frustrated. He had talked to Fusion and tried to get his point across but they hadn't listened," she said.
"When I contacted Fusion all I received was an email telling me they would pass it on to the manager.
"I'd like to know whether the council has looked into this."
The council has yet to respond to the Advertiser's request for a comment.
Mrs Marsden hopes the decision does not dissuade parents from taking their children to the lessons.
"It's a shame because the pool itself is really well used, well liked and the staff are all lovely," she said.
"I don't want to say it's unsafe but the company are thinking on monetary terms rather than what could happen if things go wrong."
A spokeswoman for Fusion Leisure said: "'Safety is of absolute paramount importance across all our sites, including Croydon.
"After carefully reviewing the operational guidance from relevant industry bodies and, in line with industry best practise, we have decided to implement a new companywide policy in relation to our lessons.
"As such, and in line with this industry guidance and local risk assessments, we have provided our swimming teachers with formal nationally recognised qualification. We believe this equips all our teachers with the knowledge and skills to immediately deal with any incident."
Last week staff – including lifeguards – at Fusions five Croydon leisure centres took part in a 48 hour walkout in a dispute over pay and conditions.
The company managed to keep the centres open by bringing in workers from elsewhere.