The postwar trend to unplug the lidos is the other way around, as people rediscover the benefits of swimming outdoors. The change marks a victory for campaign groups and public health
Twitter was filled with blue rectangles and smiling red-eyed swimmers last week when a group of lidos reopened in England.
“It felt like getting a ticket to Glasto,” said swimmer Will Thomas. “None of my friends came in.” His happy swim in the London Fields lido over Easter weekend was the first in a year. On the other hand, the cheerful CEO of Beccles Lido at Lowestoft, Shaun Crowley, reported that 4,000 slot machines had been sold in the first week. Meanwhile, London’s Parliament Hill Lido warned swimmers about having too much of a good thing amid mounting hypothermia.
These mostly jubilant reopens came as Hull City Council committed £ 4.6 million to the restoration of its abandoned Albert Avenue swimming pool, located in one of the UK’s most deprived neighborhoods. Plans for private and public lidos have also received the go-ahead from Brighton to Manchester, while a series of grassroots community campaigns to save existing ones are showing green shoots.
It all reinforces the feeling that we are in the midst of a lido rebirth. “Lidos have become all the rage in recent years,” said Emma Pusill, author of The Lido Guide. The new wellness virtue loves a blue bottom, and everyone knows someone who’s raving about the (largely anecdotal) benefits for body and mind of swimming in cold water.
With Covid, staying healthy and exercising have taken on a more pressing appeal. This, combined with travel restrictions, has encouraged people to take the plunge. “In a way, the pandemic has been friends with the lido,” Pusill said. “We rediscover our local environment and the simplest things in life.”
But can lidos, as the Hull City Council asserts, help “build a better society”? Deborah Aydon, who leads the campaign to open a heated outdoor swimming pool in Liverpool, you think so. “In terms of economic recovery and public health, the lidos feel like the perfect post-pandemic project,” he said. “They are very much centers for their community and they are very inclusive.”
A swimmer pauses to remove a leaf from the Lido of Parliament Hill in London. Image: Paul Meyler
However, lidos are not equally distributed in the UK: of the roughly 100 outdoor pools left in the country, the majority are concentrated in the south of England. “They are a complete barometer of wealth inequality,” Pusill said.
It was not always like this. At the ‘lido peak’ in the 1930s, hundreds of swimming pools were built expressly for working-class communities as a provision for public health. Namely hygiene (many houses still lacked sanitation) and German-inspired fashions for exercise. Keeping up with das Joneses caused London alone to build some 60 swimming pools, as its socialist mayor Herbert Morrison promised to make “a city of lidos.”
Lidos feels like the perfect post-pandemic project
Purpose and perception soon matured to embody the novel concept of “leisure,” which until then had been the exclusive domain of aristocrats. The vision of outdoor swimming pools as social escalators did not go unnoticed by the architects of these new democratic spaces: surrounded by elegant and well-formed art deco buildings, a visit to the lido (the word itself that becomes elegant by its origin Venetian), sometimes exciting, sophistication.
The Second World War ended the fun times and in the years that followed, the luck of the lidos waned. The 1960s brought with it easier access to the continent and its constant sunshine. Meanwhile, the lidos suffered from chronic underinvestment by local authorities caused, in part, by a new focus on the creation of indoor multi-service leisure centers. Threats persist: Swimmers in Warwickshire are in an uproar over district council plans to replace Abbey Fields Pool in Kenilworth (where Waterlog author Roger Deacon learned to swim) with two new indoor pools.
Cleveland Pools in Bath, the oldest public outdoor swimming pool in the UK. Image: Cleveland Pools Trust
But elsewhere, the future looks brighter for our lidos thanks to the tireless work of grassroots campaign groups, who have sought to revive them according to their original progressive principles.
In 2018, Cleveland Pools in Bath, the UK’s oldest public outdoor swimming pool, received £ 4.7 million from the National Lottery Heritage Fund after a 17-year campaign. Fundraising Director and Trustee Ina Harris told Positive News: “It’s not fancy in Bath; we’re trying to keep it as affordable as possible. ”Work begins this week and is scheduled to open in July 2022.
Phil Bradby, founder of Salva Grange Lido, has been working to bring the Grange-over-Sands Lido back to life, an amazing art deco pool on the edge of the Lake District, for a decade. “When we started, people thought we were crazy trying to save a forgotten lido in the north. It’s amazing how things have changed in 10 years; now we are part of a revolution. “
Five lidos saved by the power of the people
1. Saltdean Lido, East Sussex
Named by English Heritage as one of the ‘Seven Wonders of the Coast’, this Brighton pool escaped the wrecking ball thanks to the persistence of local activists who raised £ 3 million over seven years. It reopened in June 2017.
2. Droitwich Spa Lido, Worcestershire
One of only two saltwater lidos in the country, the pool built in the 1930s was saved from demolition thanks to the tireless efforts of the SALT (Save A Lido Today) campaign and reopened in 2007.
3. Portishead Outdoor Pool, Somerset
The campaign to save the Portishead lido got a boost from an unlikely source when an American television makeover show helped “flood the view with resources.” That was in 2009; the group of volunteers has grown stronger since then.
A US television show stepped in to help save Portishead’s outdoor pool. Image: Portishead Pool Community Trust
4. Buckfastleigh Outdoor Pool, Devon
This heated lido has been running under the leadership of the community for five years, and has been saved after a campaign to raise £ 300,000. Members of the group have worked to the city’s “independent council”, which prides itself on “doing democracy differently.”
5. Brightlingsea Lido, Essex
A member of Britain’s Historic Pools, this 50-meter-long seaside pool was scheduled to be closed in 2017 before a group of local volunteers circled their wagons. It reopened in 2018 after a remodel and is now community managed.
Lead Image: Paul Meyler