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Bright Future At Brightling Sea Lido

23rd May, 2018

Brightlingsea Lido reopens on Monday 28 May under community ownership. Rachel Fletcher, Chair of Brightlingsea Lido Trustees, explains how they’ve done it and gives tips for others

Brightlingsea Lido is not the first, and won’t be the last open air pool to be revived after limping along under threat of closure for years. More and more lidos are being taken over by community trusts or charities and most now rely on volunteers to survive. Around 120 publicly accessible outdoor pools remain in the UK. Many, many more have already been lost, and we were not going to let this to happen in Brightlingsea.

Brightlingsea Lido was built in 1932 and is cherished by residents and visitors alike; the only remaining publicly accessible lido in Essex. It is an integral part of Brightlingsea’s traditional promenade area along with a boating lake, beach paddling pool, playground, beach huts, gardens and skate park. The lido was owned by Tendring District Council and over the past two summers 2016 and 2017, the lido was open for limited periods due to maintenance issues and financial constraints, with the facilities suffering from almost no recent investment.

In April 2017, following a meeting called by the Town Council to discuss the future of the lido, a group of interested people with a passion for outdoor swimming and desire to keep the lido running came together. A core team formed, corralled and inspired by Town Councillor Mick Barry, and, with no experience of running a pool, initial groundwork was undertaken to scope out plans. At subsequent public meetings, these were presented, and we found strong support for keeping the Lido as a community asset. This support included offers of much-needed expertise in pool management, accountancy, and social media.

We visited or spoke to similar pools who had already made the journey to community ownership, including Beccles Lido, Buckfastleigh Open Air Pool, and Portishead Open Air Pool. Every conversation inspired us and helped us to believe it was possible. We listened to the lessons others had learned, our aspirations began to take shape, and we agreed a vision for the pool.

In early 2018 Tendring District Council agreed to a Community Asset transfer of the leasehold to Brightlingsea Town Council and the Town Council agreed to underwrite the costs for the first season (2018) including some capital refurbishment. Throughout the eighteen months of discussions and negotiations we didn’t really know what we were letting ourselves in for, nor whether the community would fully get behind us.

In February 2018 we went public, set up a Bright Lido Facebook page – @brightlido  – held some more meetings, established work parties, made an application to become a Charitable Incorporated Organisation (CIO), started to seek local support and sponsorship. We believe that our efforts to keep the lido running have appealed to those who are born-and-bred in the town and have fond family memories of swimming there, and newcomers also, who value its history. Accordingly, it has not proved difficult to recruit volunteers who are motivated to preserve their local heritage and develop a valuable community asset.

What we have learnt so far…

  • Reach out to similar pools to yours- they will help if they can.

  • Get a committed team together and agree a shared vision – even if it’s quite small to start with.

  • Believe you can do it. It’s infectious and inspiring to see that others start to believe it too.

  • Be prepared for bureaucracy and delays.

  • Having enough money to get going makes it much more achievable. Our Town Council agreed to release funds to save the lido.

And we have been blown away by donations of hundreds of hours of time and thousands of pounds worth of equipment, labour and materials. Volunteers have been arriving at the lido every Saturday throughout April and May to clean, paint and prepare the Lido. Its location has meant that the preparations have been very public and visitors to the promenade have witnessed the lido’s transformation. Trades people, professionals and businesses have contributed advice, expertise and equipment. Without this outpouring of support the project simply could not have come to fruition.

The local press picked up the story and we’ve been featured on local TV and radio and print news. In three months we gained over 1200 followers on Facebook. We recruited a manager, a team of lifeguards and a bigger team of front of house volunteers. For every visible change (painting, refurbishing, refilling) there are a number of more hidden ones (procedures, legal requirements, relationship building).

We reopen on Monday 28 May, and after what we are confident will be a successful first season we will use next winter to start to build our more ambitious plans. These might include heating the water and running a community café from the site. We aim to be a fully inclusive community facility, protecting the lido for future generations.

Rachel Fletcher, May 2018

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