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Wonder of the deep
Buy this photo » Neil Pullan with his nine-year-old son Sam who have begun sub-aqua diving in the cellar pool at Duck And Dive
Garry Hudson got used to hearing the words “you’ll never do it” when he embarked on an ambitious project transforming the basement of a Victorian butcher’s shop into a state-of-the-art hydrotherapy pool.
In the 1800s, the cellar of the West Yorkshire building would have been filled with the noise of horse-drawn carts bringing meat to the butcher. Today the noise is of youngsters splashing around in a specially-constructed pool, used for everything from scuba diving to kayaking.
The Aqua Clinic is the brainchild of diving instructor Garry, who has been on diving expeditions around the world, exploring shipwrecks. Garry runs Duck and Dive, a scuba diving school and diving equipment shop in Shipley, near Bradford, where he has transformed a rundown basement into a shimmering pool.
The nine-metre-long pool, sloping from one to 3.25 metres deep, is used for a range of activities including hydrotherapy massage, aqua martial arts, boxercise, aerobics, snorkelling, basketball, even ‘water skateboarding’. Built-in jets create a wave machine, used for diving, swimming and kayak training and water massage therapy.
More than half the users are people with disabilities, who benefit from hydrotherapy sessions. The pool is also available for events such as parties, scuba diving courses and private aqua fitness sessions.
“The idea came from years of struggling to hire pools to teach scuba diving,” says Garry. “It grew into what is essentially a social enterprise, providing a community service. It’s the only pool of its kind in the UK.”
What started off as a pipe dream started becoming a reality after Garry spent months discussing the idea with local businesses and community groups. “There was overwhelming interest, making it clear there was a gap to be filled,” says Garry. “It was two years in the planning stages. I’d always wanted a pool here and I knew the basement would be ideal. People said: ‘You’ll never get a pool down there’, but here it is.”
The £150,000 renovation, which started in September, 2009 and took ten months to complete, involved extensive excavation work. The biggest task was creating the deep end of the pool, which needed enough depth for diving and kayak turning.
“The builders kept finding huge boulders which had to be broken up,” says Garry.
Handfuls of 200-year-old acorns provided a link to the past. “There was a load of rubble beneath the walls which had to be cleared, and they unearthed an old window built for horses,” says Garry. “The building had been a butcher’s, with adjoining abattoir, before becoming a printers. Horse-drawn carts carried the meat, and the bottom of the window was full of acorns, used to feed the horses.
“We also discovered old blood drains.”
Steel beams were installed to reinforce the walls and 75 cubic tonnes of concrete was poured in, creating the pool base.
Now it’s a bright, modern facility with changing-rooms and showers. Garry finds it rewarding to see people with disabilities benefit from it. “We get people who are frightened of water, or haven’t been swimming before, and it’s great when they get so much out of it,” he says. “One young man with severe autism comes three times a week and does bodyboarding against the water jets. It really chills him out, he’s like a different person in the water.”
Garry works with local charities HALE (Health Action Local Engagement) and SNOOP (Special Needs Objective Outreach Project), providing services for young people with disabilities and complex health needs. He’s also working with Bradford and Airedale Primary Care Trust on aqua programmes tackling obesity.
“The idea is to introduce people to aquatic exercise and activities, and show it can be part of a healthy lifestyle and general wellbeing,” says Garry. “Groups and individuals use the pool. We provide structured programmes or it can be more informal.
“Parents of a child with a disability can book it for a private session. Back when I was planning this, the mother of a disabled daughter was in tears, saying she’d found it difficult to access pools for her needs and this was just what she needed.”
As well as fitness and wellbeing programmes, Garry aims to get youngsters into scuba diving and other water sports. “Snorkelling is a great introduction to underwater sports and can be children’s first step towards learning to dive,” he says.
Neil Pullan, of Baildon, enjoyed an introductory scuba diving lesson with his nine-year-old son, Sam. Spending an hour with an instructor, they learned about aspects of diving, including buoyancy, safe practices and using the equipment.
“Sam loves swimming and he really enjoyed scuba diving,” says Neil. “We practised hand signals then descended into the water. Because of the pressure build-up it felt strange at first but Sam didn’t panic – he just did the right hand signal and pointed to his head so we came back up to check he was okay. He soon got used to being underwater. At first it felt odd, being able to breathe underwater, but the instructor said Sam was a natural. It was a good introduction to scuba diving, and if we did the course it’d be good to have the qualification for going on holiday.
“It was fun too. We enjoyed the wave machine – Sam felt like a spaceman floating – and we played underwater frisbee. We could’ve stayed in the water a lot longer!”