08th December, 2017
All lidos need surgery from time to time. A nip and tuck here, a bit of grafting there. It’s a rolling process keeping them looking their best. They are, quite literally, high maintenance.
Over the years so many have been lost for lack of that maintenance. Some, like the superbly named Morecambe Super Swimming Stadium, fell victim to poor quality concrete that quickly made ongoing maintenance rather more onerous than the occasional bit of masonry botox. Many others fall victim to underinvestment, mismanagement and blatant neglect.
There’s been some high profile phoenix rising from the ashes stories in recent years. Thames Lido has had a lot of publicity, and rightly so. It is, by all accounts, a spectacular renovation. It should be. A lot of money has been spent by a commercial organisation who do a first class job of running restaurants that happen to have pools in the yard. If that sounds a bit sniffy then I make no apologies. Any renovation of a lido has to be a good thing but Thames Lido, and it’s older sister Bristol Lido, are now a long way removed from the egalitarian birth of the lido movement in the UK. A movement founded on making swimming safe and accessible to all classes of society. Even women and the poor. Fancy that! Thames Lido and Bristol Lido are only barely publicly accessible. The times when the great unwashed can turn up and swim are very limited, and the admission price for a casual swim is £20. There are various packages available that make the swimming slightly better value, but a swim at these pools is a treat. And quite possibly financially out of reach for some.
But there are other pools who have invested in a very successful bit of lidoplasty, and offer a more cost effective swim. So where are they?
Here’s a round up of some of them.
I’ve already mentioned Lido Ponty and Saltdean. The former was free, yes FREE, to swim in for its first two seasons. They introduced a charge in 2017. A whole pound for adults. Children still free. Their footfall, unsurprisingly, has been immense and Lido Ponty has delivered measurable economic benefits to the local area because of that. This forms part of the decision of the local authority to keep the pool very low cost to use. And it is a beautiful facility. The heritage of the place has been carefully preserved, yet it feels like a slick Mediterranean spa resort. With added hills, chips and Welshcakes.
Saltdean has been much lauded of late; this pool was never really properly open to the public for very long after it was built, and saving it has been a long, hard road. The renovation of the pool area is spectacular and, having had a peep behind the doors of the unrenovated streamline modern building, I can’t wait to see the completed job. Their session and all day swim prices are at the pricier end of the public pool market, but you’d still have plenty of money for ice creams left over out of a £20 note.
Sandford Parks in Cheltenham has seen a huge amount of restoration over the last 20 years or so, as have some of the other large, iconic pools such as Uxbridge, Brockwell, Jubilee Sea Pool and Tinside.
But what about the little guys?
Buckfastleigh is a shining example. Near derelict through underinvestment that pool was saved for the community by local residents who wouldn’t let it go down without a fight.
Portishead has recently spent around a quarter of a million pounds renovating the tank and renewing the plant.
New Cumnock has recently had such a sparkling refurb that it now rivals many modern spa facilities in the luxurious heated swimming department.
Bathurst might run on its original 1930s behemoth of a filter, but the tank was renovated several years ago and the pool surrounds are lovingly maintained with a rolling programme of investment.
The Severn Centre recently re-tiled their tank.
Droitwich Lido has been brought back from the brink.
Chipping Norton Lido’s recently renovated hydrazzo tank has quite possible the most tasteful mosaic lane lines in the entire lido estate. I’m waiting for Farrow & Ball to name a paint colour after them. Daybreak Lengths, perhaps.
Abbey Meadows is undergoing refurbishment as we speak.
I could go on, and often do. Many of these pools don’t have the security of a commercial operator behind them, and local authorities have washed their hands of them. They are community run, community cherished and community maintained. If they want to spend money, they have to earn it and save it first. They make the money go further thanks to the efforts of a wide pool of volunteers who invest hundreds of thousands of hours every season, and every season more pools go into community stewardship, Ashburton being just one relatively recent example.
The face of lido operation is changing, and the pace of change is set to be brisk. In these austere times communities are increasingly having to step up to secure the futures of what they value most. And, in some cases, to achieve that phoenix like resurrection. Broomhill is inching ever closer to restoration, as is Cleveland Pools. Tarlair, Tynemouth and Brynaman are fighting hard to get up on the blocks.
The future is bright, and if you swim in lidos as often as you can your admission money will help it to be all the brighter.
Emma Pusill and Janet Wilkinson are putting together The Lido Guide, a practical, beautiful, inspiring guide to the outdoor pools of the UK. They are crowdfunding the publishing of the book through UNBOUND. OSS Members can get a 10% discount when pledging. Enter discount code OSS10, at checkout when pledging for a copy. To make a pledge visit: https://unbound.com/books/lidoguide/