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Belfast baby swimming classes off as rising costs mean pool can't be heated to right temperature

Some baby swimming classes in Belfast have been paused as rising costs mean the pool can't be heated to a suitable temperature.

Water Babies classes hosted at The Clayton Hotel in Belfast have been paused as a result of rising energy costs, with it unclear when classes will be able to return.

Each week, 250 young children from birth to six-years-old learn to swim at the venue and now are unsure when they will be able to resume their lessons.

Read more: What Chancellor's mini-budget announcement means for Northern Ireland

A notice sent out to parents, seen by Belfast Live, said: "We apologise that we will need to cancel lessons again this weekend at The Clayton Hotel, Belfast.

"Unfortunately due to the increasing rising costs in energy costs, the pool have been forced to stop heating the pool to a suitable temperature for our little ones.

"As you can all imagine this has been a devastating blow, and we have been working tirelessly in the background to negotiate a solution with the management team at The Clayton Hotel and we welcomed the news from the government yesterday in relation to new energy pricing caps to be introduced in the next few weeks.

"We are hoping this will come into play here in on October 1, the same as England, Scotland, and Wales, and we can therefore get back in the pool asap. We believe this could take a few weeks, but please be assured we are working behind the scenes to ensure we get back into the pool as soon as we possibly can."

Lots of swimming classes for babies and young children take place in specifically heated pools, which are typically 30C to 32C.

Director of Water Babies, Amy West-Hurst, said it's a "very worrying" situation, adding that it will take away a third of her business. She employs three members of staff who deliver classes at The Clayton Hotel each week, predominately on Fridays, Saturdays and Sundays.

"We've been negotiating with the management of the hotel and they're doing the absolute best they can, but it's just the fact nobody knows what's going to happen with energy bills," Amy told Belfast Live.

"Even with the announcement of the price caps throughout England, Scotland or Wales, we don't know if or when that's going to be rolled out here. If businesses could even be given a date the way Great Britain has been told energy prices will be capped from October 1st, that would make a massive difference.

Water Babies classes (Alexandra Barfoot)

"With nobody in Stormont to make a decision, how do we know if or when these measures will come in?

"We're a recovering business from Covid. We were literally closed down for the best part of two years, and we're trying to get this business built up again to where it was before Covid, and this has just been a massive blow.

"We managed to get through Covid and I was able to keep all the teachers in their jobs throughout, but this is the first time I've been faced with putting them on short-term working hours because I just don't know what to do. I don't know when we're going to get a resolution - hopefully in the next couple of weeks, but it's just the uncertainty."

For Amy, who set up the business 11 years ago, she's most concerned about her staff and the impact missing lessons will have on her customers, particularly young children who are building up their social skills after lockdown.

Water Babies classes (Alexandra Barfoot)

She said: "The little ones have been the ones affected throughout Covid. These children didn't get to take part in any of the pre-school activities they would've been able to had they been born outside of that time. All of that social interaction with other children, losing that will have an affect on their learning as they get a bit older.

"There's been a lot of sleepless nights the past couple of weeks just trying to figure it all out. I know how much my customers value what we do and that they enjoy the classes with their children, and they're giving them a life skill by teaching them to swim at an early age. I take pride in that and I just feel we're letting them down badly."

Amy is calling for local politicians to step up and provide some meaningful support, so more businesses can manage during this time of rising costs.

"It's just the uncertainty of not knowing when this is going to end or if we're going to get any support from the government," she added

"I think now is the time we do need Stormont back more than anything. They need to start talking to each other and get this sorted before they cripple even more businesses."

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