The Swimmers Clubs of London
For POOL IS COOL it’s very important to understand and study the situation of other european capitals about the topic of public open air swimming pools. In London we met with Timothy Sutton, member of the Brockwell Lido swimmers club and as such a passionate swimmer, with a particular passion when it gets to cold water swimming. Brrrrrr!!!!!
So, Saturday morning, on a typical rainy and grey London day we went south to Brixton to the Brockwell Lido, ready to jump in cold water (water temperature that morning 7,5°C) and willing to have a nice chat with our new friend. We will not indulge too long on the part regarding our personal attempt to swim in cold water, we are still shaking!!! This activity requires constant, almost daily practice and gradual acclimatization in order to be able to swim at these temperatures. Anyway, it was a lot of fun.
But instead, it’s very important to talk about swimming in winter conditions. There is a whole world and community gravitating around this, from competitions, local and international, to adventures groups, excursions, to simply sport lovers and people who, in the sharing of an interest, find also the way to make friends and create a community. This Guardian article about cold swimming gives a nice insight to the winter swimming world. If you want to try it yourself (not in Brussels ...), you better follow these cold water swimming tips.
After the swimming session we sat at the Brockwell Lido cosy cafe where, in front of a proper and deserved English breakfast, we had a very instructive and interesting conversation with Tim.
Open air public swimming pool in London, history and actual situation.
The great part of the open air public swimming pool had been built and opened during the ‘20s and ‘30s in order to allow the growing middle class to practice sport and socialize around water. Almost every borough had its own open air public pool. This was seen as a primary right for the modern society. Can you believe that?
Anyway in more modern time, mainly during the ‘80s following the liberalization of the economic model and the reduction of investment in public facilities a lot of these pools (called Lidos) had been closed or even demolished under the blame of being expensive, unprofitable and superfluous.
Luckily several of them managed to survive through these hard times and even, thanks to social pressure and civil demands, had been restored and reopened. The Brockwell Lido is one of them, this link brings you to the other facilities in London Town. Most of them are open all year long, several have heated water during winter, the other like Brockwell have cold water, so the opening hours during winter are reduced. For us was very interesting to try to understand what was the financial and management model applied in London.
The financial and management system
These facilities are still public (owned by the state) and with very low entrance fee. We payed only 3€ for the entrance. That gave us access to very well kept changing rooms, showers, services, sauna and obviously the pool.
The infrastructure is leased to a charity organization that in exchange for the maintenance of the pool’s infrastructure are given the right to integrate it with extra-services and facilities to reach the necessary economic balance. The organization responsible for the Brockwlell Lido is Fusion Lifestyle.
In the Brockwell Lido for example Fusion Lifestyle integrates a gym and the cafe that guarantee a sufficient income to keep the pool running. Actually it seems that even if this system works, the financial part is quite dominating: even if registered as charity company the mainly exploitative approach of the management company might result in an exploitation of the facility too much oriented towards the profit, denaturing and impoverishing the potential of the structure. But this a problem that we know very well in our days.
Luckily there is another vital element around the Lidos that balance and vitalize the situation: The swimmers clubs.
The swimmers clubs
This is maybe the most important part of this story. Timothy is a very active group of the Brockwell swimmers club. Basically you can see the club members as the life around the pool, they are the real swim lovers, the passionate fellows for whom the moment of the year or weather condition don’t matter, they will be there!
They organise excursions, parties, events, courses, workshops and all the kind of activity you can immagine related to pools and water. All this provides the community life around the Lido while providing a base of regular users (and income) for the managing company.
Little side story to this: not far from where we were there is another Lido, Tooting Lido. We didn't manage to visit it, but it is huge: 91.5mt x 50m!! As an example of how important a swimmers’ club can become, here during the winter the lido is managed and kept open by the Tooting swimmers club.
A little remark Timothy had about the clubs is the difficulty they have to attract younger generations, we speculate a bit about what the possible causes of this could be, feel free to formulate your own theory...
In conclusion, it was amazing to see applied what we as POOL IS COOL always kind of dream of: around the pool and the water there is life, there is friendship and social interaction, the pool is a meeting point and a place of union for the neighborhood. By swimming you encounter new people, you make friend, maybe meet your lover and even sometimes get into conflicts, but this is what can make our cities a better place to live than just work, eat, sleep, consume, work.