With a heatwave forecast for the first week of the school holidays queues at lidos up and down the country are likely to be long. That puts a lot of people off, and if you're a season ticket holder who can, and does, just pop along to the pool any time you feel like it you may well feel a bit resentful of the hordes descending on 'your' pool. Where are they when it's raining hard and the horizontal wind is making it difficult for the lifeguards to stand up, right? You might well choose to stay home, grumbling quietly, on those hot summer days.
But whether you're a regular who avoids busy days, or an occasional swimmer who only wants to go to a lido when the mercury tops 25c, you need to learn to love the queue.
Busy day income is what keeps most pools afloat. Wet Tuesday afternoons in June are not profitable; it's great for regulars to have the pool almost to themselves sometimes, but the crowds who line up on hot days provide the income that makes those very special 'rock star swim' experiences, where it's so quiet you can almost imagine you own the place, possible.
So, regulars, when you look at the queue feel grateful rather than frustrated. Those queues, and the money they bring into a lido, are the reason you have a pool to enjoy.
And if you're standing in the queue, here's a few tips to make it less stressful:
1. Hydrate - shade to stand in while queuing is rare. Make sure you take a reusable water bottle with you and drink regularly. The queue in the picture above was at Faversham last summer, we'd already been queuing for 20 minutes by this point and the queue snaked right round the play park to the front door. We stood in line for about 90 minutes. This shady part was bearable, but it was almost 30c in the sun on the other side, without a breath of wind. Having water and bribery snacks for the kids and adults alike was vital in terms of maintaining family harmony.
2. Sunscreen - Put on your sunscreen before you leave home, you'll need it in the queue and when you get into the facility you'll be able to leap straight into the water without having to wait for the sunscreen to absorb into your skin. If you get into the water straight away after applying sunscreen it washes straight off, which means you're not protected, and it emulsifies in the water which makes the pool cloudy. If that gets extreme parts of the pool may have to close, because the lifeguards can't see the bottom. Nobody wants that on a hot day!
3. Bring something to do - having a book to read, some colouring pens or a little game to play, helps to pass the time. We rarely leave home without a set of Uno cards, and sometimes you can rope in your queue neighbours as well. Which brings us neatly to the next point...
4. Be nice to your neighbours - it should go without saying, but being nice to your queue neighbours will make the whole experience less painful for everyone. Have a chat and make new friends. I once had a lovely time in a long queue for Pells Pool, because I got chatting to the woman in front of me - she was carrying a Tooting Bec lido tote bag and that's what sparked the conversation. And she gave me a couple of jammy dodgers, so that was definitely a win-win.
5. Don't take it out on the staff or volunteers - by the time you get to the ticket booth you might well be feeling a bit scratchy. Don't take it out on the staff or volunteers - they will have done their absolute best to keep the queue moving and get everybody in while also keeping everybody safe. A smile from you will make all the difference.
Queuing will almost always be worth it. At the end of our 90 minute queue to get into Faversham the kids all got to have diving board experiences they hadn't had elsewhere. They still talk about it, a year later, and none of them regret or resent the queue at all. In fact, we left Faversham to go to The Strand in Gillingham, where we queued for another 50 minutes, and they didn't complain at all. The photos below were taken on that day, and I hope they'll persuade you that the queueing will most definitely be worth it.
Yesterday it was my very great pleasure, and privilege, to bring 50 or so lido operators, campaigners, enthusiasts and swimmers to the House of Commons. We were there, at the invitation of Owen Smith MP, to discuss themes on the revival and survival of outdoor pools in the UK.
The Lido Guide was the vehicle that got us all into the room. I had met Owen at a Historic Pools event some time ago, at Lido Ponty. I'd mentioned the book, and he kindly asked to be kept updated. When I dropped him a line to let him know of the impending publication he offered to host us in Parliament to celebrate its publication; he is a keen swimmer, co-chair of the all party parliamentary group on swimming and as an MP with a successfully restored lido in his constituency he knows first hand the benefits these places hold for their communities. He proudly told the guests that Lido Ponty is now the second most important visitor attraction in Wales, and that it has played a fundamental role in securing other investment to develop the town. He's right to be proud, it is a marvellous facility and the commitment to continuing to operate it that Rhondda Cynon Taf council shows is remarkable, and inspiring at a time when many other local authorities are so resistant to resurrecting, sustaining and operating lidos. When one visits Lido Ponty it is easy to forget that it once looked like this...
It transpires that Owen and I went to secondary schools within about ten miles of one another, and within one school year of one another; we both remember that pool before it fell derelict. It's fair to say he was rather fonder of it than I was during our teenage years. But I am delighted to see the painstaking restoration, and the positive impacts on the town of Pontypridd that have followed on.
So given the link to Lido Ponty it was fitting that the theme for the day was not the book, but the positive impact that lidos have on their communities, and the need to revive them and help them to thrive.
The first speaker was Phil Bradby, Chair of Save Grange Lido. His presentation made the powerful point that councils must not look for what they think is an easy way out of the 'problem' that councils perceive lidos to be. There is no problem that local authorities perceive to be caused by their lido, to which a well run lido is not the solution. I was pleased to see Robin Ashcroft, of South Lakeland District Council, in the room - and he asked the intelligent question 'what does it take to run a successful lido?' I offered a one word answer - imagination. Within that are layered many things, and the other speakers and guests gave him a great deal of insight and offered practical examples. It encouraged me no end that he listened carefully and with good grace.
We then heard from Pam Barrett, of Buckfastleigh Open Air Pool and Andy Thatcher, of Portishead Open Air Pool. Two very different pools, both saved from councils keen to close them. They have different operational challenges, and talked about how they meet them and enrich the lives of their communities through offering affordable access to physical activity, as well as providing social cohesion through their volunteer base and commitment to serving local residents as well as visitors. When Pam talks about the transformational impact that pool has had on Buckfastleigh, a town with economic and social challenges, and its residents, it is always a moving experience. This pool runs on a financial knife edge, and when Pam, who is also a town councillor, asks the question 'can we afford to have this pool?' her answer is unequivocal... 'we can't afford NOT to have it'.
The afternoon was closed by Jenny Landreth, a swimmer and author who offered the swimmer's perspective, and Gill Wright from Historic Pools who gave the room a deeper understanding of the historic significance of some of their member pools. This organisation works tirelessly to promote and sustain the rich built heritage that is dedicated to swimmers. Their support for those pools, and for The Lido Guide, has been invaluable.
The passion in the room was palpable all afternoon. I am honoured to have been able to bring that to Parliament, and I hope the MPs who dropped by during the course of the afternoon will have been able to soak up some of that. I hope they'll take it back to their constituencies, particularly where they have lidos, and use it to get behind these wonderful places. They are the beating, aquatic hearts of communities. They grow confidence, connection and achievement both individually and collectively. They help us to be the best versions of ourselves. We can't afford NOT to have them.
I haven't said very much about Jenny Landreth's wonderful presentation - that is because she has given me her kind permission to reproduce it in full below. I doubt any swimmer reading it will fail to recognise something of themselves in it, and she perfectly brings to life the democracy of swimming in lidos. And she did so in the magnificent Jubilee Room, right at the heart of the Houses Of Parliament. Perfect marriage of words and place. Scroll down below the picture to read her speech in full.
I’m here today to represent an important constituency in any discussion about swimming - the swimmers. Particularly, the lido swimmers. And it doesn’t happen to me often, but I’m actually representative of the biggest community of lido swimmers - older women. This is a surprise twist - older women are generally the most invisible demographic, which, in truth, suits some of us very well, because while you’re not watching us, we’re up to all sorts of mischief. Actually, outdoor swimming, our fastest growing participation sport, is one of the few areas where women of all ages form the majority, and consistently outperform their male counterparts, particularly over long distances. We’ve got staying power, you see. Please don’t worry, I’m not here to terrify everyone with feminist tales of formidable old women. If that does happen, it’s entirely a bonus.
Swimming is just good exercise isn’t it? Good stress relief. What do lidos offer that you can’t get in nice, safe, regulated indoor pools where the experience is the same every time? Or what about wild swimming, in rivers, lakes and the sea? Isn’t that better? You don’t have to pay for that. The trouble is a) most of us don’t have access to swimmable rivers, and b) some of us - by which I mean me - don’t always have the courage or skills to plunge into a lake or the sea, alone. For me, lidos offer what we might call a ‘third way’ - a centrist position, perhaps, although I feel that might not be a position it would be wise to expand on, right now. Still, lidos are boundaried, protected spaces that give us the best of both worlds - all the best things about outdoor swimming without the risks, and with showers.
My motto is: we are all equal in a swimming cap. And I believe that there is nowhere more equal than a lido.
The idea that lidos are some kind of equal opportunity nirvana might surprise people who follow recent discussions. Journalist Ellie Mae O’Hagan wrote about her own experience of harassment at an indoor swimming pool and garnered a lot of response from other women. (Quite a lot of response from men too, obviously. Most of it using the words ‘men’, ‘not’ and ‘all’.) There were, in the responses to Ellie Mae’s article, a whole raft of examples of men behaving badly. (If you think I’m referring to those guys who butterfly up and down the lane, you’re absolutely right, I am. And the rest.) I went on Radio 4’s PM programme to talk about it, and it was suggested to me that life guards should monitor men’s pool behaviour. My response was that lifeguards were mostly young people on minimum wage, they really weren’t paid enough to save lives AND sort the patriarchy.
All of this sounds like a terrible set up, doesn’t it? How are lidos going to come out of it well? Well, there was a common theme in the comments on Ellie’s article. It was: ‘That doesn’t happen at my lido’. And here’s why I think that is:
It’s because lidos are different. Because they do something deliberatelythat indoor pools do NOT do. Two things actually. The first one is:
Lidos foster equality - they do it literally by design; they were established as the embodiment of democracy. (It feels so delightfully appropriate, saying that here.) Josiah Stamp, Governor of the Bank of England, said at the opening of the Morecambe Super Swimming Stadium in 1936: "When we get down to swimming, we get down to democracy."
What does that democracy look and feel like in a lido? Well, firstly, it doesn’t matter, in lidos, who you are. How old you are, what size, whether you’re male or female, young or old, how good a swimmer, what you earn. You can cycle up there on a solid gold tandem for all I care, because once you’re through the gates, money cannot buy you a better lido experience. That in itself is a massive equaliser. And you can’t tell by looking if someone is a good swimmer or not; you can’t judge their ability by age, size or gender. And in a lido, what constitutes being a ‘good’ swimmer changes - it might not be the swimmer perfectly executing their tumble turns or being the fastest. It might be the person swimming one width against the odds. Or the one encouraging someone else to get in. Or the one who is still there when it’s snowing. Nobody is there to judge, these are places where just getting in is the key.
They are places were none of the usual status signifiers matter.
And actually, being rid of signifiers benefits everyone. If you take off all your labels - mother, husband, colleague, benefactor, employer, employee - it’s incredibly liberating. It’s a kind of freedom. They did a road traffic experiment, around Kensington I think it was, and removed all the signage, all the instructional gubbins that clutters the urban landscape and people still managed to navigate the area perfectly successfully. Lidos absolutely remind me of that. We navigate our way with none of the usual instructional gubbins.
I say money doesn’t buy you a better lido experience - obviously you can own our own pool. But doing that means you’d miss out on the second great thing that lidos do - they create community.
Cross generational, cross-gender, cross-ability community. They do that, again, deliberately,by design. It’s inbuilt in the fabric of the place. Community is partof their purpose. Lidos encourage people to stay, to hang out, take up a bit of space. The shabby picnic benches, the sunbathing spots, the cafes, the communal showers, and so on. This is where a solitary activity can become a social one. You don’t see many people deciding to spend the afternoon lying reading their book at the side of the pool at Balham Leisure Centre do you? It’s not what they’re for. (And anyway, you’d probably get a horrible skin condition if you tried it.)
When you start to become a regular, when people say hello, when you have your preferred shower, your routines about getting into the water, when you’re recognised, when people sometimes get your name right - you’ve become part of a community, of swimmers. An egalitarian, respectful, non-judgemental community. A really key element of life is finding our tribe, finding ‘people like us’. Your lido tribe might share no othercommon factors with you, none at all, except that you’re all swimmers. (Unless you’re an older woman, of course. There’s quite a few of those.)
I don’t need to talk about the benefits of community. We all know it. That shared space, the feeling of belonging - it’s an inoculation against loneliness. You don’t haveto join in - this is not the PTA, they won’t make you sell raffle tickets as soon as you turn up. (Well, they might but just deal with it.) You don’t have to do anything at all actually, just be present. And being present, being in the moment, can be counter to everything else in our organised, over-scheduled lives. Being in the moment is a key part of meditation - and you get it in lidos AS A SIDE BENEFIT.
What else do swimmers get from lidos? There’s a lot been written about the benefits of being in nature, particularly to our mental health, and it’s very relevant to be talking about that now, when mental health provision is collapsing so drastically. It’s become fashionable to use terms like ‘forest bathing’ and ‘nature bathing’. I’m adding to that: ‘bathing bathing’. Being in the water outside can be magic. You might imagine there’s not much ‘nature’ to be had in such a ‘built environment’. You’d be wrong. You might not get the waves crashing over you heads, or the river swooshing you along, or the smell of the peaty lake. What you get instead in a lido are the small, everyday bits of nature that we can often miss, as our lives are so removed from a sense of the seasons changing, the year passing. There’s nature in the surrounding trees, and their leaves falling into the water. In the space above you. In the bugs you save. In the clouds going over the sun. In being swooped by a bird on the wing. In the temperature of the water, or its contrast to the air. In stripping off and letting the crispness or the mugginess of the day play on your skin. There’s so much joy to be found in that, and finding joy is like finding treasure.
There are wider benefits too: getting involved at a lido shows you the power of grassroots activism. Sharing a public resource and working together for that shared resource are the absolute antidote to pernicious individualism. And spending a day at a lido - having a holiday at home - produces no carbon footprint.
And of course, last but not least, there’s the exercise. Blah blah, the exercise. It’s often the last thing on a lido swimmer’s mind. Or maybe just mine.
Now, I might say ‘we’re all equal in a swimming cap’. But some people don’t get the opportunity to even put that swimming cap ON. Women had to fight for inclusion in the lido democracy, but it’s a fight that’s not concluded, for some.
We have work to do, on two fronts. Firstly, on disabled access. Because lots of lidos are historic buildings, often they fail to be as inclusive as they could be. Public money should be available for that. The second front is diversity. Lido communities often look very white. Because black and minority ethnic (BAME) people often don’t swim, for social, cultural and financial reasons, there are a lot of racist assumptions made that they can’tswim. We need to work to change that before yet another generation of BAME children are excluded from the lifetime benefits of lido swimming. I must shout out to SwimDem crew here, for their work in inclusion among young BAME communities. I see SwimDem all the time, popping up at the lidos of London with their groups, and it’s exactly the kind of grassroots activism we should be encouraging across the country.
I want to end on a positive note, and there are many to choose from, but I’ll talk about my own experience. My lido - and it is mine - is my spiritual home. I have solved a lot of problems in that water, cried a lot of tears and done huge amounts of laughing. I’ve meditated, I’ve bathed in nature, I’ve relieved stress, and of course, I’ve exercised. It’s where I feel most exactly like myself. And that’s an experience that should be extended to everyone.
It's here - this much awaited day has finally arrived. The Lido Guide's publication day. The book that has been an idea since early 2015, and a work in progress since Unbound accepted Janet and I as authors, is finally on general release and will pop up in bookshops from today.
It's a time for looking forward, thinking about where the book will go, who will read it and where it will take people; we hope for unlimited voyages of discovery as people explore the pools it features. We hope for new discoveries of our own, and the restoration of lidos currently derelict or hidden behind closed doors to public use. Pools to watch closely are Broomhill Pool in Ipswich, Cleveland Pools in Bath, Grange Lido in Grange-over-Sands and Albert Avenue Baths in Hull. Broomhill and Cleveland Pools both have funding in place and will begin restoration very soon. Grange has a talented and committed campaign team who are gaining real traction and making tangible progress to the days when the taps can be turned on to fill the might Grange Lido once more. Albert Avenue has secured investment from its local authority, and will be returned to public swimming after a period spent being used by a kayak club. There are also campaigns in Brynaman and Tarlair that are making progress and other, more fledgling campaigns, that have realistic chances if they can garner support. And, of course, Sea Lanes in Brighton have finally been granted planning permission to transform a derelict seafront site with a scheme that includes a 25m outdoor swimming pool.
Add all that progress to the refurbishments, extended seasons and general growth in popularity that existing lidos are experiencing and the future is looking rosy for open air pools. When we started this project we strongly felt that lidos were experiencing a resurgence, but we had no idea just how much the pace would pick up.
But as much appeal as the future holds it's also time, for me at least, for looking back. For reflecting on how we got here. I tried to find the original, impulsive, 140ch tweet that I sent to Unbound pitching the idea for this book. That search proved fruitless, but I did find a tweet I sent out on the date that our crowdfunding went live. I'd spent part of the day swimming with a dear friend, Lynne Roper, who died of an aggressive brain tumour very soon after the campaign went live. Her own wonderful writing has been posthumously edited and published by Tanya Shadrick via Selkie Press, in a book titled Wild Woman Swimming. The book has been long-listed for the Wainwright Prize for nature writing; a richly deserved accolade that I wish she had lived to see. She was so helpful to me in the early days of visualising this project and getting it to a point where we had a chance of publishing the book.
She was far from the only one. In the book we are careful to pay homage to those who went before us, inspiring us, guiding us, counselling us and helping us. And the book wouldn't be here at all without the 579 pledgers who supported the book via Unbound. Their patronage is the reason the book exists. The patience and generosity is the most inspirational aspect of publishing The Lido Guide.
I hope you'll all join us in raising a cuppa, and a slice of cake, in their honour before donning your togs and going for a swim. Preferably with someone you love. Cherish them. They won't be here forever.
The response to the request for suggested collective nouns for lidos was overwhelming, 80 words were suggested - all of them beautiful and apt. After a week's worth of World Cup style knockout tournaments, conducted via the medium of twitter pools, the champion was crowned yesterday...
It's absolutely perfect. And very timely. Throughout next week Janet and I will be visiting a shimmer of lidos to offer swimmers a sneak peak at the book ahead of the 13th June publication date; there will also be some advance copies for sale, so if you're keen to have one come and see us.
A great place to catch up with Janet (@deliciousswim) will be next Wednesday, 29th May, at the Historic Pools event celebrating the launch of the book. Historic Pools have been valued supporters of this book from the moment they learned of it, and their even next week, in partnership with Jubilee Park lido, Woodhall Spa, Lincs will be fun and informative for lido operators and lido lovers alike. And you get to swim in a truly beautiful pool. Tickets are available here.
As for me, I'll be at the following pools throughout next week:
Saturday 25th - Hayle open air pool, 11am to 1pm
Sunday 26th - Buckfastleigh open air pool, 9am to 10.30am and Chagford Pool 2pm to 4pm
Monday 27th - Shoalstone seawater pool, Brixham 10am to 12pm
Tuesday 28th - Wivey Pool, Wiveliscombe, 12.30pm to 2.30pm
Wednesday 29th - Lido Ponty, Pontypridd, 10.30am to 12pm
Thursday 30th - Petersfield open air pool, 11am to 1pm
Friday 31st - Pells oPol, Lewes, 12pm to 2pm
If you're in the area of any of those pools please do come for a swim, take a look at the book and say hi while you're there. As well as the books there will be a few other goodies for sale, and they've also gone up online today. We all love a bit of lido-themed merch, right? Check them out here.
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.