The lido social-media community is a rich and rewarding place to hang out. A wealth of information and joy is shared on a daily basis, questions are asked, answers are provided...
But this morning a tweeter, in response to a tweet from Save Grange Lido, wondered what the collective noun for lidos might be.
So, naturally, I asked people to suggest them. There have been some fantastic suggestions so far, including a splash, a lux, a plunge, an invigoration and an exhaustion - that latter came from a pool that is currently gearing up to open for the 2019 season and I think lido volunteers everywhere will identify with it.
My personal favourite, so far, is eudaemonia - which, of course, I had to google:
happiness or well-being; specif., in Aristotle's philosophy, happiness or well-being, the main universal goal, distinct from pleasure and derived from a life of activity governed by reason
Anyway - I'd love to have more suggestions and am taking them via both facebook and twitter. Please join the conversation. I'll take my favourite 4 suggestions at the end of today, and tomorrow will poll them on both facebook and twitter. The suggester of the winning collective noun will get a Lido Guide swim cap posted out.
The gestation period of a book is an elastic timeline beyond the powers of science to define. In our case it has been many years from conception to delivery.
Our midwife has been Unbound. Our project launched with them on 9th August 2016. A great deal of water has flowed through the filtration system since then, and today we celebrate as the first advance copy of the book lands on the doormat at Lido Guide HQ. By way of an aside to other authors, either current or aspiring - you may not want to leave this precious bundle lying unattended on the doormat for an hour before you get around to opening it. You'll only feel indescribably guilty. You can also expect to shed a tear. At least one. Probably many.
While the process of delivering the book to you, our readers, has been long it has also been one of the most richly rewarding things we have ever done. It is the culmination of a twenty year voyage of discovery for Janet. A voyage that shows no signs of abating. For me, it has provided me with connections and friendships across the country. I've learned so much, and continue to do so. I had no idea I had the capacity to be so enthused by air-source heat exchangers, 1930s horizontal filters and the power of volunteering to transform communities.
All of that is wrapped up in this book. And, today, it is an actual book.
Thank you to all who have helped us deliver it. Unbound, our pledgers, Dryrobe, The Outdoor Swimming Society, Historic Pools and, but very definitely not least, the 126 pools who feature in this book. It exists for, and because of, them.
In the coming years nothing would give us greater pleasure than to welcome other pools to the fold; the book is crying out for the likes of Tarlair, Brynaman, Grange Lido, Sealanes Brighton and Cleveland Pools to be added to its pages. We all need them, and they need us. So please, wherever you are do whatever you can to use existing pools and support those seeking revival.
The energetic group of volunteers who run Helmsley outdoor pool successfully secured grant funding to renovate the pool tank and do a few other vital jobs to secure the future of this absolutely charming lido on the fringes of their very picturesque town. The tank and pipework are the focus of attention, and stopping leaks will not only save them money but will also be better for the environment. Although Helmsley already have a pretty good track record where the environment is concerned, being the only publicly accessible pool in the UK currently using an air-source heat exchanger to help heat the pool. Please put Helmsley on your lido hit-list for the 2019 season; for those of you who aren't lucky enough to live locally you'll find it well worth the journey.
Picture Credit : Helmsley Outdoor Pool
Travelling south we come to Topsham, Devon. This small, historic, riverside town barely registers on the radar of those journeying south for holidays but it is well worth a stop off - not least because the fabulous, heated outdoor pool built, in the 1970s, thanks to public fundraising by the community. This winter Topsham has been renovating the changing rooms, you can check out the progress on their website and there are some pictures on their facebook page showing the areas before work started. We just hope they put their bunting back up - I think it's the best bunting I've seen and the urge to pinch it has been difficult to resist!
Heckington pool, in Lincolnshire, is also investing in their pool tank. As I type the old liner has been stripped out, the tank re-skimmed and a new liner will be installed.This is a small pool, in a small village, and is a key amenity - particularly for young people. Seeing investment being made in its future is, therefore, very encouraging. These are just some of the works underway over winter 2018/2019, and they show that the custodians of these community pools have a keen eye on repair and renewal to take them forward, gleaming, into the future.
Picture Credit : Jacki Wright - Heckington Community Pool
On Saturday 19th January I had the pleasure of volunteering at PHISH - the Parliament Hill Icy Swim Hootenanny. This invite only cold water swimming gala has been one of the highlights of my swimming year, whether swimming or volunteering, since it was founded a few years ago by cold water legends John Donald and Jeremy Irvine.
John stepped down last year, to the doffing of many swim caps, and it seemed that 2018 would be the final PHISH fling. So when Jeremy announced that the phoenix would rise from the ashes in 2019 there was a widespread quickening of hearts and an instant flurry of excitement. Not least from me.
I volunteered this year; given that my current level of cold water habituation is somewhere on a par with a camel (as, indeed, is my present swimming ability) I thought it wise. The cold water lifeguarding team at Parliament Hill are second to none - kind, wise, supportive and hard as nails. I couldn't have stood the embarrassment if they'd had to be inconvenienced on my behalf. So I was happy to don a yellow vest and pick up a stopwatch.
I can't recommend volunteering at outdoor pools highly enough. Every outdoor pool in the country has a sense of community about it, and those where volunteers are involved build the strongest possible communities with enormous social benefits for those involved, and for the swimmers they serve. Keep your eyes open on social media in the coming months, as calls for volunteers begin to emerge ahead of the 2019 summer season.
It was a real pleasure to stand poolside at PHISH and see so many swimmers achieving great things. Some of them show a turn of speed I could never dream of achieving in warm water, let alone in 5c water that starves the muscles of oxygen and squashes the lungs like a discarded crisp packet. But for me the achievements of swimmers who don't make the podium are of at least equal importance. The swimmer who clearly dug very deep to press on and finish the endurance race when the last few lengths were clearly very painful, the relay teams who support and encourage each other as they make their first foray into competitive cold water swimming, the recreational swimmers who wouldn't ordinarily consider entering a gala. They are all champions.
Amongst those donning a yellow vest at this year's PHISH was Roger Taylor - a very talented photographer and an enthusiastic outdoor swimmer. We are blessed to have had Roger allow us to use some of his work in The Lido Guide. He understands pools, swimmers and how to photograph them and the photographs he took at PHISH are evidence of that. They capture the warmth that wraps around a cold-water swimming event, as well as the drama and the beauty. If you need a versatile, friendly professional photographer he's your man. You can reach him on facebook here.
Here's a small selection of his other images of the day. And if this inspires you to get into cold water swimming why not make 2019 the year it happens? Aim to swim right through the summer, outdoors, and then keep on going through autumn and into winter. You can learn a great deal from the Lone Swimmer's bible of cold water swimming, and from your fellow swimmers. Seek out your local cold water tribe, and make yourself part of it. The social side of it is enormously rewarding, and it helps to keep you safe. If you're not sure who your local cold water tribe is, or where you can find them, just drop us an email and we'll do our best to point you in the right direction.
Swimming and book publishing have in common the ability to take a person right out of their comfort zone. If you're reading this there's a good chance you're a swimmer of one stripe or another. So you may be familiar with the unsettling moments it has to offer; the exposed feeling walking from changing room to pool where you feel certain that everybody is staring at your wobbly bits, the blind flash of terror when something unseen and unidentifiable touches your foot in murky water, the chill that runs up the back of your spine when you swim through an inexplicably colder patch of lake water, the knot in your stomach when that barrel jellyfish drifts closer and closer, the crushing disappointment when the tuck shop has run out of your favourite post-swim cake... all those and more.
The unsettling aspects of getting a book into print are equally many and varied, and we endured one of them just before Christmas. Now that The Lido Guide is almost ready to be sent to the printer our thoughts, and those of our publisher, naturally begin to focus more sharply on marketing and publicity.
"We need some headshots of the two of you, for publicity" said our editor Imogen.
I'm fiercely uncomfortable in front of camera, so was all for sending in something that had been taken around some pool or other. Preferably one were I'm unrecognisable by virtue of swim cap and goggles, and where the water hides my many and varied chins.
Janet was less keen on this approach. So we agreed that we should have a go at something more dry land based. We tried a few candid, informal shots (many thanks to Gill from Historic Pools for joining in with this) but we soon realised that it is simply unfair to expect a friend to make silk purses out of sows' ears in this way. And besides, darlings, my hair was all over the place in that breeze. So Janet, being the consummate professional that she is, arranged for us to go to a photography studio in Bristol one chilly afternoon. She tried to organise me in terms of making sure we were wearing something compatible. I see, now, that this is what the casually put question 'so what are you wearing?' was designed to do. Unfortunately, my stock approach to questions about clothes is to freeze and clam up. I entirely lack whatever gene some people have that enables them to take an interest in fashion, clothes, shoes, bags etc etc. I have only once, for an example, bought a coat that wasn't of the practical, outdoors, waterproof and / or down-filled variety. And to be honest, that was an accident. I'd gone out to buy a pair of trousers for work and came home with a coat. This is what happens to me, when I shop for clothes - chaos. So what I said to Janet, when she asked that very sensible question, was 'I don't know, haven't thought about it, whatever is first out of the drawer I expect'. In short, I was no help.
Fortunately, we both turned up wearing black. Janet had brought a spare outfit, just in case. I marvel at that woman's foresight and planning, I really do.
The bright young thing who was our photographer for the afternoon was infinitely patient as we prevaricated, squirmed, tried to smile like we meant it and did our best to do as we were told. Shoulders like so, arms like this, stand like that... in some ways it was nice to just be told what to do. Although she did ask me, at the outset, whether I had a 'favourite side'. My blank look and gaping mouth was probably all the answer she needed. At one point she asked us what was the weirdest thing that had happened to us as we'd been dashing all over the country visiting pools. Our response was instantaneous, and unanimous - 'THIS!'
But we managed to hold it together, and after much sifting we have a shot that we are content with. So... meet your authors.Out of their comfort zones but still smiling. Which, really, is what swimming is all about.
It's a bit of a New Year's tradition, isn't it - getting active after a festive period often characterised by excess and indulgence. There's more than one way to get active, however, and it feels fitting to us, at the start of the year in which The Lido Guide will go into print, to do our bit for activists trying to save a much loved outdoor pool.
I was honoured to be asked to speak, by the campaign group Restore Kenilworth Lido, at a public meeting they hosted in Kenilworth yesterday. Warwickshire District Council has expressed its intent to close the outdoor pool at Abbey Fields, in the town, in order to replace it with an indoor 10m x 15m training pool sitting alongside the indoor 25m pool that already occupies part of the site. This would put an end to outdoor swimming at Abbey Fields after more than 100 years. While the outdoor pool currently occupying the site, a free-form pool constructed just a few decades ago, is not the original pool built there it nevertheless continues a tradition that has played a not insignificant role in the wider cultural importance of swimming in outdoor pools.
Roger Deakin, the author of Waterlog - the book that is, perhaps, the classic swimmer's tale that has paved the way for all others - swam in the lido at Abbey Fields as a boy. In the book he recalls his earliest swimming memory of his Uncle Laddie, a local swimming champion who had his own keys to the outdoor pool, taking him there before it opened to the public and teaching him to swim. The pleasure and privilege of having the pool to themselves was not lost on a young Roger. He rued the replacement of the original lido with the modern, free-form pool calling it 'a token travesty of its former glory.'
He was, sadly, right about that and it is, in part, the kidney-shape of the pool as it currently is that contributes to its potential undoing. While this pool offers a little holiday-style glitz it is simply not useful to swimmers. It's a fine pool for splashing about and jumping in for having, in short, larks. But it is not suited to giving swimming lessons, aquatic exercise classes, running galas or catering for swimmers who want to bash out the lengths as they train. In short, it does not offer any flexibility of income stream, and the current operator, Everyone Active, deems it to be uneconomic. They would prefer the indoor training pool that is proposed as they know there is a good profit margin in swimming lessons.
Restore Kenilworth Lido would like to see the free-form pool replaced by a 25m, 4-lane outdoor pool. Concrete proposals have been put before Warwickshire District Council. To be fair to them they did ask for that option to be explored for commercial viability, and received a report concluding it would not generate enough income to be economically viable. The council released that report immediately before Christmas 2018, and plan to vote on what to do with the Abbey Fields site on the 9th January 2019. They have not, therefore, given any realistic time for the campaign group to respond which is, in my view, a very poor approach to democracy.
I have read the commercial viability study, and I believe it to be fundamentally flawed. The authors clearly have little experience or knowledge of outdoor pools and what makes them successful. They operate on assumptions that outdoor pools are 'highly weather dependent' and seasonal. If an outdoor pool is run well, neither of those things need be so. Where operators struggle to maximise revenue from an outdoor pool it is often because they treat it as an indoor pool without a roof, and fail to exercise the imagination required to develop all the available income streams. The study, which you can read for yourself here, also fails to recognise the income streams that could be developed at an outdoor pool, as opposed to an indoor training pool, and appears to assume that exactly the same activities would happen in the two pools. This is a significant flaw. It may be that Everyone Active would not plan to maximise the other available income streams, but that rather begs the question 'are they the best operator for this site'?
The assessment also relies on a study made on behalf of Stratford Parks Pool, in Stroud (also managed by Everyone Active) and cites its finding that an outdoor pool cannot be financially viable without the benefit of an additional income stream such as parking or a restaurant. That study is also flawed. It chose to look at pools primarily in the same region as Stratford Park, rather than looking at pools of a comparable type. It also did not pay due regard to operating models. As an example that study made a comparison with Bristol Lido. Anybody with even a passing familiarity with the lido industry knows that the team behind Bristol Lido and Thames Lido are not, first and foremost, running a lido. They are running restaurant / spa businesses. The pools are not designed, or run, to be the primary income stream and they are primarily a members only model with what limited casual swimming there is on offer being so expensive as to be all but inaccessible to people on low incomes. Had the Stroud study chosen to look at the work done at Portishead Lido, a 30 minute drive away from Bristol Lido, they would have found a vibrant, successful and financially sustainable outdoor pool that is now open year round.
The public meeting in Kenilworth was very well attended, with people having to squeeze into all corners of the room. The purpose of the meeting was to ask the public to vote on a resolution to ask Warwickshire District Council to defer its decision in respect of Abbey Fields. That resolution was passed unanimously, and I very much hope that Warwickshire District Council listen to the public on this matter. Seeking to bury the issue by releasing the commercial assessment of options so close to Christmas, and then proposing to vote decisively on the matter so soon after Christmas, really is disgraceful.
Restore Kenilworth Lido deserve a chance to respond to the assessment, and it was clear from the comments / discussion coming from the floor that residents of Kenilworth remain fiercely attached to outdoor swimming at Abbey Fields. Their voices deserve to be heard.
Almost as an aside, when I went, with Gill Wright of Historic Pools of Britain, to look at the outdoor pool before the meeting I noticed it was empty. Leaving a pool empty puts the structure at significant risk from the upward pressure of the water table. I asked the helpful young man at the reception desk whether the pool was left empty every winter. He confirmed that this was the usual practice - although I note that Everyone Active only took over running the pool in 2017 so he may not know what the practice was before that. I remarked that they must be very confident of the water table and the absence of any risk from that to be happy to leave it empty. He confirmed that they were absolutely confident of that. It was, therefore, something of a surprise to me to go on to walk around the perimeter of the facility and see, right outside behind the pool, a significant body of water with run off diverted into a culvert that runs right alongside the pool. I also learned that the pool has, in the past, been flooded. Both of which suggest that Everyone Active's confidence in the absence of any pressure from ground water might be misplaced.
Although the cynics amongst you might wonder whether a cracked tank mightn't suit the aims of both Everyone Active and Warwickshire District Council very nicely.
I can understand Warwickshire District Council's desire to see Abbey Fields generate more income; local authority budgets have been gutted and they have difficult decisions to make. It is understandable that they would wish to stop paying a subsidy to Everyone Active to run the pools at Abbey Fields. However, I note that SLM Ltd, the company that trades as Everyone Active, reported post-tax profits of £8.1m in the tax year 2017/2018. As a result of those profits they paid out £5m in dividends. Which did rather leave me wondering why any local authority considers it ethically acceptable to offer them any subsidy at all. I would prefer that my taxes were used solely to provide services to society, rather than to provide dividends for shareholders.