20th June 2021

So yesterday we had a Save the Oasis rally in front of the Oasis itself. In this post I want to share the Oasis reflections from the 1970s that I spoke of at the rally. But first, some comments about stuff said on Twitter by a certain Conservative councillor and Cabinet member. And I’m saying this as me, a Swindonian, looking at things from the outside in.

This particular Cabinet member put out a tweet yesterday afternoon. He used a photograph taken either as people were just arriving or after they’d left – so it looked like not many attended. There were in fact about around 70 present. -A good number but not so many that we couldn’t spread out.

In this tweet, the said public servant, used language that belittled and criticised Swindonians – families with children attending the rally. He drew a comparison with the Palestine protest the other week that many more attended. And noted that some of the people at the SOS event yesterday were also at that event.

In both of those points: so what?

He even used the term ‘professional lefties’.

Political capital and political alignment

It’s clear that said Cabinet member is trying to make political capital out of this. But it’s clear too, that the SOS campaign must take care over showing political alignment. A sensible point much easier said than done. And here’s why:

From the earliest days of this campaign, way before I got involved myself, they tried – hard – to get the Conservative cabinet to engage with them. With little to no success. Likewise they tried – hard – to get Seven Capital to engage and to get a contact point from them. This time – NO success at all.

The Labour group and Swindon Lib Dems were largely the only political groups engaging with them.

The connection with the community union Acorn, is a vital one to help the SOS campaign get a letter to Seven Capital’s CEO in London. And how else do they do that without help from Acorn? Rock/hard place huh?

I’ve joined Acorn myself but not because I’m a professional leftie. If anyone really wants to know I’m somewhere in the middle/left. I joined because they fight for community issues and I think that”s a good thing.

But i’ll leave that there as something for you to think about should you hear the SOS campaign as being politically aligned.

Now – my words from the rally

Oasis reflections from the 1970s - Me at the SOS rally 19th June 2021
Photo credit Elmar Rubio
Oasis reflections from the 1970s - hand drawn architects' plan of the Oasis.
Architect’s drawing of the Oasis

When the Oasis was built in the 1970s, Swindon was a town with visionaries at its helm. David Murray John, the town clerk, had a clear grasp on the fact that the town had to look to the future – witness the tower that bears his name. Whether you love it or you hate it – it makes a statement about Swindon. As was Murray John’s intent.

And the same is true of the Oasis. Iconic is an over-used word – yet it fits the Oasis in every sense. Something that became evident when the campaign team visited the Swindon & Wilts history centre in Chippenham and unearthed a heap of wonderful documents and drawings relating to the Oasis. 

Chippenham findings

They found detailed documents written by council officers at the time. Here’s a couple of small extracts:

‘In the long term, when the arts and recreation committee comes to consider a multi sports centre the demand is immediate and, with the expansion of Swindon and in particular the arrival of major office developments, this demand will rise rapidly.’

IF THAT WAS TRUE BACK THEN, THEN IT’S SURELY EVEN MORE TRUE NOW!?

And further – these documents observe: ‘the fact that other major pools in the region are, or are going to be, standard 33 metre pools seems to me an added reason why Swindon should be quite different and, therefore, have a special appeal to a wide catchment area outside the district.’

And indeed, the campaign knows how extensive that appeal to a wider catchment area still is. People from as far away as Cardiff have contacted them to say they travelled to Swindon to use the Oasis.

And in keeping with all of that, I want to read to you an email from a chap called John Stevens who just so happened to be involved in the whole Oasis thing back in the day. He wrote:

Email from John Stevens

‘I had the pleasure and privilege of opening the Oasis, on New Year’s Day 1976, but never thought that I would see the day it could be closed – a very sad day indeed.

It was back in 1968 when the Borough Council discussed that, with the rapid expansion of the Town and the surrounding areas, we consider the building of a state-of-the-art leisure centre.

 I had the good fortune of being on the Arts and Recreation Committee where we discussed and debated as to whether we could afford this kind of building and design. 

We were aware that we were opening a very fine building, one of the best in the country, with this type of pleasure dome and provide the finest leisure activities in the country. Despite the financial restraints of the times we were committed to the people of Swindon and the surrounding area, to provide a fine and exciting building for the use and enjoyment of the community.  

Let us not lose what was achieved for the people of Swindon, which is still enjoyed today by many of our residents, who look to the opportunities to keep fit and also relax. ‘

Fine words

They are fine words befitting a fine building. Without this dome and this facility Swindon will be a little bit sadder in many ways. It will culturally poorer and architecturally blander. It will have lost the very last building of its kind – and let’s be clear – demolishing the dome WILL be an act of cultural vandalism. 

Now? Well, The Twentieth Century Society, have the Oasis on their 20th century buildings at risk list.

They describe it as ‘an amazing ‘flying saucer’ of a fantasy structure, an architectural gem, and a rare and important survivor of a group of municipal leisure centres built from the 1960s-1980s.’ 

So, as the eminent John Stevens said:
1. Let’s not lose what was achieved for the people of Swindon in 1976
2. Let’s honour those visionary councillors who blessed this town with this unique and special facility.
3. And Swindonians: let’s SAVE THE OASIS!!!! 

Oasis reflections from the 1970s - plan of the Oasis in Swindon from the 1970s