Gallery: Why has there been a revival of the lido? And what does it mean for Broomhill Pool?

Hot weather at Broomhill swimming pool, Ipswich Dated Aug 1990

Hot weather at Broomhill swimming pool, Ipswich Dated Aug 1990 - Credit: Archant/Paul Nixon

As hopes grow for the reopening of Broomhill Pool in Ipswich, campaigner Sally Wainman looks at the revival of the lido over the last two decades.

Members of Ipswich Swimming Club during their Christmas Day swim at Broom

EADT 27TH DECEMBER 1972 Members of Ipswich Swimming Club during their Christmas Day swim at Broomhill Swimming pool. EADT 24.12.02

I was born in 1948 and during the first 20 years of my life our family moved 13 or 14 times around different parts of England and Wales; but wherever we went there was a pool to be enjoyed and swimming became one of the major formative influences of my life.

The open-air pools and lidos at that time provided endless opportunities for highboard and springboard diving, for serious swimming training as well as relaxation and were also meeting places for socialising and romance.

In the latter part of the 20th Century however, many closed and in 1991 a poignant document entitled Farewell My Lido was published by the Thirties Society (the forerunner of the Twentieth Century Society).

This thought-provoking piece of work helped to offset the cavalier attitude displayed by many councils that lidos were outdated, open for only a few weeks of the year and generally a waste of space: sadly many were filled in and the sites sold off for housing or other development.

As lidos became scarcer, alarmed community groups started fighting back: one of the very earliest successful campaigns saved Hampton Pool in the London Borough of Richmond.

The Hampton Pool Trust took over the pool, installed heating and re-opened it in 1985. It has since seen other major improvements and is famously open 365 days a year, featuring regularly on the BBC on Christmas Day.

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In 2007 the day-to-day management was contracted out to the YMCA London South West and this kind of initiative is a key part of the revival that has taken place.

In order to survive, lidos have had to re-invent themselves. Author and wild swimmer Roger Deakin, who wrote Waterlog, described lidos as the “cathedrals” of swimming pools and just like cathedrals, these swimming pools provide a space within which many different activities can take place.

These activities include:

• Triathlon events eg Sandwell Parks Lido where the annual Cheltenham Triathlon will take place on September 14

• Scuba diving, kayaking, canoeing and even submarine training sessions (Hilsea Lido)

• Countless cultural and leisure events – film evenings, musical events, drama – these are too numerous to list but, for example, FOIL (Friends of Ilkely Lido) have recently organized “Live at the Lido” (bands night), a solstice swim at 4.30am and outdoor yoga sessions.

• Baptisms: Guildford Lido have hosted baptisms. The Right Rev Christopher Hill baptised five adults in June 2011

• Community Payback schemes: Broomhill Pool has regularly benefited from the efforts of the Community Payback scheme and other lidos have too.

• Lidos being used as film locations: eg Independent film-maker James Sharpe has used Broomhill Pool for location filming; and Brynamman Lido in Carmarthenshire was used for the opening scenes of Hunky Dory, starring Minnie Driver.

• Heritage events, particularly the open heritage weekends held each September.

• Provision for serious swimming training: many lidos open early for length swimming

• Modified diving facilities: health and safety has made high boards difficult to retain but even a single low springboard will act as a magnet for those who want to jump and dive.

Why has the revival taken place?

The mainspring has been community concern harnessed together with tremendous perseverance: the London Fields Lido was saved after a campaign of nearly 19 years.

The formation of a strong friends group has been instrumental: BLU for Brockwell Park Lido, SALT (Save A Lido Today) for Droitwich Lido and, hopefully, the Broomhill Pool Trust for Broomhill Pool.

In addition, campaigners have been supported by organisations like the Twentieth Century Society who have been instrumental in getting a number of lidos listed. Broomhill was listed in 2001 as a grade II building.

The Twentieth Century Society also hosted the first Lido Conference in 2006 – a sell-out success with council representatives, pool operators, authors etc. attending and giving talks.

The conference itself came about after English Heritage published Janet Smith’s book: Liquid Assets – the lidos and open air-swimming pools of Britain in 2005. This encouraged the BBC to ask Janet about possible pools of interest and she suggested Broomhill! This duly resulted in a visit from the BBC Breakfast team and later from the BBC’s Inside Out team who filmed Peterborough Lido as an example of an open lido and Broomhill as an example of a closed one.

Celebrity involvement has helped: eg Griff Rhys Jones (the Restoration series) who visited Broomhill Pool in 2005 and Jeremy Clarkson faithfully supporting Chipping Norton Lido with an annual auction of promises.

The rise of leisure companies with a special interest in lidos eg Fusion Lifestyle who have been involved with Uxbridge Lido, Brockwell Park in Herne Hill and Wycombe Rye Lido. It is this company which is working with Ipswich Borough Council to secure Broomhill’s future.

Architects interested in this kind of inspiring restoration on Thirties pools: WPP architects in Ipswich who contributed a great deal to the feasibility study on Broomhill.

All these influences feed into one another and inspire private companies, individuals, councils, community groups, lottery funders (HLF) and urban planners to make a contribution and restore or upgrade open air pools.

The future of Broomhill Pool

Finally, how does all this impact on our own pool, Broomhill? The future for our lido depends on an alignment between the Heritage Lottery Fund, Ipswich Borough Council and Fusion Lifestyle: each part of this trinity is essential to the restoration of the pool.

If successful, then Broomhill Pool can be re-opened on similar lines to the restoration completed at Brockwell Park Lido in Herne Hill: i.e. the old changing rooms can be converted into a range of modern facilities: a café/restaurant, group exercise studio, indoor cycling studio, hydrotherapy pool, health suite and gym are the kind of things that could be on offer and they would be open all the year round.

It is these kind of all-the-year-round activities which help make a lido a viable financial concern and these can be allied with a longer opening season for the pool, season tickets, better opening times and partnership with scuba divers, triathletes, water polo, life-saving classes and so on.

Broomhill has the additional bonus of a working relationship with the adjacent library, Westbourne Library, which should ensure that the educational side of re-opening an Art Deco pool will be well covered for local schools, tourists, historians, architects, journalists and urban planners.

The stage is set and we can only hope that the restoration will come to fruition and that Ipswich will regain its stunning grade II Listed, Olympic-sized swimming pool.