AFTER over 40 years at the pool, Barbara Uprichard has decided it’s time to ‘hang up the towel’.
Barbara, who started working at Lurgan pool after finishing school, has retired after four decades at the leisure facility in Robert Street.
The Lurgan woman started at the pool on March 1, 1972 as a swimming teacher, when the facility was still owned by Lurgan Council.
She said: “How I commenced my career was largely due to my involvement in competitive swimming which was when I was 11 years old when Lurgan pool first opened. Before that there were no other swimming facilities in the area.
“I had taken up competitive swimming through Young Swimmers Alliance of Ulster (YSAU). It was formed by Frank Bradley, who was the first manager of Lurgan pool.”
She added: “My father, Frank Evans, was involved and assisted with coaching.
“The YSAU would have competed right across Ireland down as far as Cork.
“I swam for Ulster and Ireland. Getting capped for Ireland was my biggest achievement.
“I remember when we went over to Crystal Palace that was the first time I’d ever seen a 50 metre swimming pool. That was all while I was still at school.”
Barbara was part of the same swimming team as Lurgan man Cecil Russell who represented Northern Ireland at the Commonwealth Games. Two of Cecil’s children were part of the Canadian Team at this year’s Olympics.
Barbara recalled: “I remembered myself and Cecil both swam seven miles as part of a sponsored swim. After we’d finished I did another two lengths so I could say I’d swam further than him. I was quite competitive that way.”
The Lurgan woman, who grew up in Trasna Way, is a former pupil of Carrick Primary School, Lurgan Junior High and Lurgan Tech. After finishing school she switched her attentions from competitive swimming to teaching at Lurgan pool.
“I taught for about 10 years and then I went straight from swimming teacher to manager of the pool, a post I held for 30 years,” she said.
“I enjoyed the teaching for 10 years, but got the feeling it was time to move on. When I started teaching it was just me taking the classes by myself. It was hard work. Now you have three teachers who can split duties and take beginners, improvers and the top group between them.
“It was nice when people came into the pool and told me that they remembered me teaching them and now their children and even grandchildren are now taking swimming lessons.”
On her transition to manager Barbara said: “It was completely different managing the whole facility. Instead of looking after a group of 30 children, you were managing up to 50 staff across different departments.
She added: “The big changes over the years have been due to health and safety regulations.
“There have been two major refurbishments during my time as manager. The first one in 1993 when we took away the diving boards and converted to a 25 metre pool and a separate learners pool.
“We were renamed Waves because the council installed a wave making facility. Cascades had the flumes so we had to go for something different. It wasn’t that successful mainly due to health and safety considerations.
“The second big refurbishment saw the new health and fitness suite added to the existing building.”
On the move to a centralised leisure centre, Barbara said: “The council have been considering amalgamating the three leisure centres to one central location for about 10 years.
“Who I feel most for when this change occurs are local groups like the ‘Young at Heart’ who have made Waves their own.”
Barbara and her husband Jimmy were married in 1973 and have two children - Dean and David - and four grandchildren - Isabella, Yasmin, Zach and Molly.
Of her retirement she said: “I’m hoping to take up some new activities as well as looking after my grandchildren which will hopefully include taking them swimming.”
Of the importance of swimming lessons for school children Barbara said: “The safety aspect being able to swim is very important. It’s also a great form of exercise.”
Barbara was treated to a reception in the Mayor’s Parlour a few weeks ago to mark her long service to the council. She was able to invite many of the people she’s worked with down through the years. Among those was Jackie McBride.
“I’ve worked with Jackie for 38 years,” she said. “As well as being a work colleague Jackie is a good friend.
“I’ve been fortunate to have worked with some excellent staff over the past 40 years.
“What I liked most about the job was being on first name terms with the vast majority of customers coming into the pool. It was a very close-knit community. I would take this opportunity to thank them all for their support and friendship over the years”