‘If Hull can do it surely Hastings can too. We already have the perfect site – the Old Bathing Pool at West St Leonards.’
That was the Tweet that Anne Cooke posted on her Twitter account the other day that has attracted a huge response.
Anne was responding to the news that Britain is currently undergoing a ‘Lido revival’ as outdoor swimming booms in popularity and more specifically to the news that in Hull, where the old lido has been out of bounds for a quarter of a century the local council has just announced a £4.6m investment to reopen it.
The plan is part of ‘build a better society’ post pandemic and Hull city council has decided to put £4.6m into reopening the outdoor pool and upgrading the complex. It is one of a string of new or refurbished lidos up and down the country, from Brighton to Salford, set to open in the coming years.
There was a time when most UK towns and cities had lidos. But by the 1990s, most had closed. Like the bathing pool in St Leonards they had fallen victim to the boom in cheap package holidays and ever tighter council budgets. Those that survived or reopened were often in wealthy or gentrifying areas, such as London Fields in Hackney, making outdoor swimming an increasingly middle-class pursuit.
That’s what makes Hull’s lido so special, says Daren Hale, the deputy leader of Hull council. The fact it is in a: “…quite deprived terraced house community in west Hull makes it all the more admirable in my view,” he said, “because it means you don’t have to live in a swanky part of town” to enjoy it.
The lido will be heated so it will not just be the preserve of masochists in winter, and Hale is optimistic it will be popular with the local community when it opens in summer/autumn 2022.
For a council under extreme financial pressure following a £130m cut in central government funding over the past ten years, reopening a lido may seem a luxury to some. Not so, says Hale: “With the Covid-19 pandemic, people have started to take stock of what’s important,” he said. “As we come out of the pandemic we need to build a better society and I think the fear that we have is that unemployment will be higher, certainly for young people as the furlough scheme winds down, and people are going to need to have affordable, good leisure facilities on their doorstep.”
Other lidos expected to open in 2022 include Sea Lanes in Brighton just along the coast. There will be a brand new 50-metre outdoor pool on a privately run site billing itself as “the first national open water swimming centre of excellence”.
Across the country, dogged local campaigners continue pushing for their own outdoor pools to reopen nowhere more so than here in Hastings and St Leonards where campaigners point to the fact that a perfect site already exists in West St Leonards where the old bathing pool once stood. Hastings Borough Council want to turn the site over to housing but has faced a sustained campaign from local people opposing the plan and determined to ensure the site becomes a leisure destination once again.
They could turn to Phil Bradby, who runs Save Grange Lido in Cumbria, for inspiration, he takes heart from the developments in Hull and beyond: “When I started Save Grange Lido ten years ago people thought I was mad trying to save a long-forgotten, derelict lido from demolition but now there are campaigns and community groups all over the UK working to reopen old lidos and calling for new ones where they used to be – it really does look like a lido revolution,” he says.
We’ve asked Hastings Borough Council for their comments. Our council’s forward planning includes the construction of a new swimming pool and leisure centre after all.