Lidos live again: UK braces for outdoor swimming pool revival
Renaissance for open-air swimming as communities restore derelict sites and campaign for new pools
This year is set to be the “year of the lido”, with three new or revamped outdoor baths due to open in England in 2023 and more communities across the UK agitating for the opportunity to swim in the open.
What campaigners are dubbing the “lido revolution” has been given extra impetus following the National Lottery Heritage Fund awarding £99,800 to a project aimed at helping people bring their local pools back to life.
Though indoor pools across the country are struggling for survival amid soaring heating bills and savage local government cuts, swimming outdoors continues to increase in popularity, accelerated by Covid lockdowns.
In the last two years, the membership of the Outdoor Swimming Society increased from 100,000 to 170,000, with a recent survey suggesting the main reason for swimming al fresco was “joy”.
Britain’s oldest surviving outdoor pool, Bath’s Cleveland Pools, will reopen fully this year following its refurbishment. This year also, Sea Lanes, a new privately run 50-metre pool on Brighton’s seafront, will open, and outdoor swimming at Hull’s Albert Avenue Pools will resume.
Other lidos previously open only during the summer months are now operating all year round for cold-water swimming.
All three of the reopening pools are members of the Future Lidos Group (FLG), an informal network of community-led projects and campaigns around the UK and Ireland, dedicated to reviving outdoor pool swimming.
Thanks to the Heritage Fund and to National Lottery players, the FLG is embarking on its first significant collaborative project, Pooling Resources, which will create a digital “lido toolkit”, raise awareness of the role lidos play in community wellbeing, and strengthen the UK’s network of outdoor pools.
The project director of Pooling Resources, Deborah Aydon, founder of The People’s Pool, said: “It feels like the momentum of the much-vaunted lido revolution is building. Reopenings and campaigns are gaining traction. Could 2023 be the year of the lido?”
The ultimate goal is to encourage more communities up and down the country to campaign for a pool of their own, following in the footsteps of other Heritage Fund-supported lidos such as the Jubilee Pool, Penzance, and Brockwell Lido, south London.
Eilish McGuinness, the chief executive of The National Lottery Heritage Fund, said: “The UK is home to an amazing collection of lidos. Many had fallen into disrepair, but a renewed love of these special places and the blissful joy of swimming outdoors has created a lido renaissance right across the country.
“At the Heritage Fund we are delighted we have supported that renaissance by providing more than £13m towards restoring and celebrating lidos such Saltdean Lido in Brighton, and Cleveland Pools in Bath. Lidos are true public and community spaces, providing health, wellbeing and happiness to those who use them.”
Michael Wood, founder of the FLG, who is assistant professor at Northumbria University and a Tynemouth Pool campaigner, said: “This award will help towards reinstating the inclusive, fun, lido facilities that a diverse range of people in communities across the country evidently want so they can get out and be active. Whatever the weather!”
Projects making a splashOtley Baths, Yorkshire
Local swimmers have formed a community interest company aiming to redevelop the derelict Otley baths, which closed 30 years ago, into a modern, year-round, leisure venue featuring a heated lido with retractable roof.
Grange Lido, Cumbria
The only surviving seaside lido in north-west England, and one of only four in the country, Grange Lido offers spectacular views across Morecambe Bay but has been derelict since 1993. South Lakes District council is putting millions into restoring the buildings and structures, before fundraising gears up to restore the 50-metre art deco pool.
Tarlair Swimming Pool, Aberdeenshire
Another art deco gem, this lido sits at the base of sea cliff just outside Macduff in Aberdeenshire, Scotland. Work will begin soon to restore the pavilion, with plans to bring the three pools back to life.
Brynaman Lido, Wales
A Carmarthenshire community built the Brynaman Sapphire Pool in the 1930s and once again local people are campaigning to bring the facility back into use. A feasibility study has started, aided by a £10,000 viability grant from the Architectural Heritage Fund.
Outside the UKGeorge’s Dock Lido, Dublin
A proposed €25m white-water rafting centre in Dublin has been scrapped in favour of developing a multi-pool lido complex at George’s Dock. Though still in the early planning stages, the latest design plans include a 50-metre, year-round heated swimming pool, with swimming lanes and water polo facilities.