It's been almost a year since I last posted here. Last summer was a delicious flurry of lido road-trips introducing The Lido Guide to swimmers while topping up my own chlorine and sunshine levels. I took the winter off, a sort of hibernation.
I reduced my social media usage drastically, took time to be more present in real life and to swim for the pleasure and the pain of it. Fellow cold-water lovers will understand what I mean by the pleasure and the pain of it.
Following a trip to Orkney in February, where storms so severe that even the locals didn't swim put paid to my desire to immerse myself every day, I was ready to take up the reins, to re-immerse myself in all things lido.
But the world changed. Amidst the devastating losses of the pandemic swimming and lidos felt inconsequential to me. Trivial, even. I'm still feeling wary with swimming, careful not to do anything that might lead to any kind of emergency call-out; whether through need or well-meaning but uninformed onlookers being worried about what they see. We are nowhere near out of the woods yet, and I'm determined to keep doing all I can to minimise the spread of the virus and leave our emergency services best placed to respond to those in genuine need.
Lidos, to me, feel as though they could be part of the solution not part of the problem. Commercial open water swimming venues, such as those sited in lakes, reservoirs and disused docks were authorised to open weeks ago provided they had appropriate safety measures in place. Lidos, despite the obvious parallels, were not. The sector took that apparent contradiction with good grace, although it has led to a number of them deciding not to reopen at all in 2020 because what remained of the season would not have been cost-effective for them with reduced footfall due to social distancing measures.
There were high hopes that lidos would be given the go-ahead to reopen on 4th July, and some started making preparations such as cleaning the pool and training lifeguards - the lead time for opening a seasonal pool is in the order of weeks, not days. The decision of the government not to allow swimming pools to open has come as a crushing blow to the lido sector.
The government appears not to recognise the difference between indoor pools and outdoor pools. The risk profile of an outdoor swimming facility is arguably very much lower than that of an indoor facility. Perversely, in having allowed other open water venues to open the government seems to accept that. Yet the almost 130 publicly accessible lidos remain closed.
This demonstrates that the government does not understand the lido sector, or the significant contributions these pools make to their local communities. The majority are volunteer-run, and operate on a financial knife edge. Losing an entire season, particularly a season blessed with such spectacular weather as this one has been to date, could result in some being lost to us forever.
If the entire economy remained in lockdown, and if other similar businesses had not been allowed to open, lido operators and lido enthusiasts would undoubtedly take this on the chin. We understand that the pandemic is bigger than all of us, that Covid-19 is an awful illness that can all too readily take lives and that we must do all we can to protect those most vulnerable to it. But the hospitality sector, and many other outdoor leisure and recreation facilities have been given the green-light. We feel overlooked, undervalued and misunderstood.
Following the government announcements regarding July 4th Swim England are now lobbying hard for pools to be allowed to re-open. They, also, do not appear to recognise the fundamental difference between indoor and outdoor pools. That is a great disappointment. Nevertheless, we need to get behind their campaign. You can find full details here.
The lack of recognition, within the political world, of the unique and important outdoor assets that lidos undoubtedly are persuades me that it is time for my re-entry into the lido world. It is vital that these safe, welcoming swimming spaces are given the opportunity they need to survive alongside the other businesses for whom lockdown restrictions have been eased.
I hope that sooner rather than later we will all be diving in, literally, and that we can protect these vulnerable pools through being allowed to use them.