The company that runs Shirley Pool began in 1969 in the garden of the Perry family home in West End. Frank Perry was a primary school maths teacher, a County Level water polo player and part time coach at the Southampton Swimming Club.
The City Club at the time was the best in Europe, with coaches Derek Snelling and Dave Haller producing swimmers to represent the UK in every Olympics. Demand for pool space was high but there was only one local pool and Frank recognised the potential for private swimming tuition.
The Central Baths, as it was then known, had a two year waiting list for swimming lessons. It was a majestic 1960’s pool, with underwater windows in the deep end, a grand gallery on both sides, a 33 yard pool and a small, cold pool. Frank built his small garage pool from a kit with the help of some Trojan Rugby Club friends and advertised the swim school just once. It wasn’t easy, the first day it opened the heating failed and the family had to run back and forwards from the house with kettles of hot water. Lessons would start when Frank got home from his work as a school teacher.
The demand for lessons quickly grew and the business expanded, hiring the LSU Pool in the Avenue, building a second pool in Horndean and running courses all over the City wherever there was water space.
In 1973, the Council offered a piece of waste land in a derelict back street of Shirley, Kentish Rd, on a long lease and work began on the Shirley Pool. Frank & Val Perry sold the house and land in West End, moved closer to the new site, investing everything in the new venture. The estimated £25,000 build cost quickly became £35,000, the oil crisis sent the overheads through the roof and the next ten years became a struggle to pay off the loans.
Despite being the only purpose built private swim school in the country, the public were slow on the uptake.
By 1985 Frank had left to pursue his first love, coaching, at Winchester Penguins S.C. Val kept the business going with Ruth, their youngest daughter for another eight years and the business began to stabilise. Val was diagnosed with cancer in 1992 and, in trying to sell the pool, discovered that there was serious corrosion in the steelwork.
David joined the family business in 1993 and within three years was able to raise the funds to allow Val to retire.
Chris White was recruited to join full time teacher Jane Read who had been with the pool since 1988. Baby lessons, pioneered in the 1970’s, expanded with Viv and Deborah. The culture of high quality tuition was maintained and gradually the lesson program expanded.
The introduction of the direct debit system in 2003 proved very popular with busy families, offering affordability and flexibility and the business grew rapidly.
The liners of the pools were upgraded, a new plant room designed and installed bringing state of the art chemical controls and UV disinfection. The land was purchased from the council and detailed planning began for a new roof.
Planning permission was eventually granted in 2009 and foundations started for a new two storey building that would go over the existing site, like a butter dish lid. The plan was to complete the fitting upstairs and then remove the original 1974 building. The loan from the bank was withdrawn eight weeks before construction was to start, a victim of the banking crisis, and the construction of the foundations caused a huge leak in the pool.
The pool closed on August 1st 2009 and the search for the leak began. In an extraordinary four weeks, the steelwork and roof was removed and replaced, interior and exterior walls were knocked down, the whole site was rewired and plumbed with new showers,new changing rooms and reception designed and fitted. CCTV, security shutters and alarm systems were all in place when the pool reopened on September 1st. The leadership of project manager Martin Birch was key in the successful rebuild. He also found and fixed the leak.
New steelwork is manhandled into the pool by the deep enduring the 2009 rebuild.