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Pools for the People

The private companies that have taken over our local leisure facilities are charging huge fees for users and running them into the ground. In Tottenham, local residents and ACORN have decided to take a stand.

ACORN activists and local community members gather outside Tottenham Green leisure centre. (ACORN)

On a sunny Saturday afternoon in a park in Tottenham, a group of people all dressed in red started blowing up inflatables. A crocodile, then a beach ball, then a large donut appeared. First there were ten, then twenty, then fifty. The community union ACORN was about to take action against the famously neglected Tottenham Green swimming pool, and the locals had answered our call.

Parents arrived with buggies, while school students and pensioners got involved inflating more colorful props. Together they started to make their way to the entrance, chanting ‘pools for people, not for profit.’

Staff looked on as we formed a queue out the door of the centre, determined locals spilling out into the car park, each of us brandishing a bright pool inflatable and a demand letter calling for more affordability, better management, and proper maintenance of the facility. One by one we handed in our demands, reassuring the desk staff we were here for management, not for them.

Indeed, it was only a matter of seconds before a Fusion manager who had previously asked us to call our protest off entirely appeared, in time to receive a large stack of our demand letters. He hastily congratulated our turnout and promised to meet with us in the next week, before disappearing back behind the turnstiles which charge an adult £8 to swim.

Tottenham Green is not simply local in the sense that it’s the nearest pool and gym to nearby residents, it’s a council-built facility—it is, or rather was, our pool. Its journey into the grey area between being state owned but run for private profit is the story of the slow and subtle murder of the welfare state.

In 2012, the contract for the pools management was awarded to management giant Fusion Lifestyle, a so-called ‘social enterprise’ advertising ‘The very highest quality sport and active leisure services that are enjoyed by all members of the community at affordable prices.’ Yet across the country, Fusion’s understaffed practically abandoned facilities paint a different picture. At Tottenham Green prices jumped to the highest in the area while standards plummeted, and over a thousand locals signed a petition to have the contract revoked.


Years of complaints, angry letters, and heated Facebook threads followed, which so far had been ignored by Fusion management, who were happy to milk a tidy sum out of despairing parents who can’t afford the sometimes hours-long journeys to better facilities. Hopes to remove Fusion’s contract were dashed when the council revealed the agreement wasn’t up for renewal until 2032.

Then in 2019 a chlorine gas leak at the facility left several people in the hospital and the demands for change gained new momentum. A brief glance at its abysmal Google reviews in the last few months show pictures of dirty water, out of order signs and what appears to be human feces in the changing area. A local parent described ‘feeling physically dirty’ after getting out of the pool, while others criticise an unreliable booking system, constant cancellations, and chaotic confusing rule changes around coronavirus.

After receiving millions in Covid bailouts from the government, it was hoped Fusion would emerge from lockdown on a stable footing. Yet openings were delayed after management slashed staff numbers, all while paying themselves six-figure salaries. A recent Telegraph article likened some Fusion-managed sites to Chernobyl.

Even surface-level research gives the strong impression that the reason this facility has avoided closure is not an honourable attempt to provide a highly needed service, but simply because it gets away with charging the highest prices in the area for the lowest quality of service.

Last month ACORN’s Haringey branch voted in its ‘pools for people’ campaign, recognising the huge importance of decent public leisure facilities, and the lack thereof in our neighbourhood. It was clear we could not stand idly by and resign our pool to an all-too-familiar fate of disrepair, eventual closure, and replacement with high-rise flats.

ACORN is a direct-action focused community organisation which fights for better services and housing justice. While we’re best known for taking on rogue landlords and resisting evictions, we’ve fought—and won—community campaigns across the country, often making headlines with our unconventional and confrontational direct actions. A campaign against litter in Sheffield saw our members bringing uncollected bins straight to the offices of management giant Veolia, who soon after agreed to run more regular collections. Our ethos is simple: collective action gets the goods.

With community spaces closing at a devastating rate across London, especially in deprived areas like Tottenham, we need to fight tooth and nail for what we have left. Leisure centres don’t just provide massive health benefits that save the NHS millions, they also change the way we see and feel about our areas. Having buildings not purely designated for the production of wealth, but for leisure and community brings immeasurable social value to an area.

Whether it’s cheaper transport, council tax reductions, or increased street lighting, ACORN organise low-income people to pressure those with power to provide us with the services we need through strength in numbers. And now we have Tottenham Green pool in our sights.


Rather than throwing the contract back on to the free market for any profit-hungry bidder to snap up, or worse—risk the pool’s closure, we’re simply asking Fusion to do its job: run pools for the people, not for profit, provide a decent service at a fair cost.

While the new manager of the pool prides himself on his ‘community engagement forums’, the true test will now be his response to the community taking action. Fusion can continue trying to line their pockets as locals flock to competing facilities, leaving the pool a sad, empty monument to corporate greed. But we will fight them every step of the way—and we’ll win.