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Friday, 9 August, 2002, 16:03 GMT 17:03 UK
Lidos struggle to stay afloat
Tooting Bec Lido
The sound of the fountain drowns out passing trains

The heat beats down on Europe's largest lido in Tooting Bec, south London.

More than 400 people are here worshipping the sun - some dive into the unheated pool, others are only brave enough to dangle their feet in.

But poor weather and a lack of sponsorship means many of the city's open-air pools are facing massive financial problems and closure.

Lido historian Oliver Merrington said: "They are mostly run by local councils who don't have much money.

People at lido
Many lidos are run by volunteers

"They totally look at it on financial grounds. They look at ticket sales and if it has been a bad summer then that's it."

In the 1920s and 1930s about 50 lidos were built by London County Council to promote healthy living.

Dr Ian Gordon, from the Amateur Swimming Association, said: "Every borough had one or two outdoor pools - they were open to the masses.

"In those days you were lucky for a holiday in Brighton so the chance of swimming in the open air was rare."

But many sites have now been filled in, vandalised or closed.

Only about 10% of the original lidos remain open in London and some of them are struggling.

Recently the leaseholders at Brockwell Lido had to cut their opening hours and lay off all but two staff.

Possible closure

Lambeth Council owns the lido and invested more than 100,000 in it last year.

That was matched in sponsorship by the water company Evian - but this year they gave only 10,000.

Roz Tabor is a regular lido user. She said closure of the Brockwell Lido would be terrible.

"We used to swim in Peckham Rye at an open-air pool and that was closed," explained Mrs Tabor.

"We used to swim in Southwark Pool - that one's been closed. So if this one goes it will be really bad."

But Tooting Bec Lido is proof that a lido can be a success and kept open all-year round.

Brockwell Lido
Brockwell Lido has cut its opening hours
The site is owned by Wandsworth Borough Council and run on a day-to-day basis by their leisure contractor DC Leisure.

Janet Smith, author of Tooting Bec Lido, said: "In the 1990s the council wanted to close the lido over the winter.

"The South London Swimming Club (SLSC) launched a massive campaign to stop this happening - fearing that, once closed, the pool would not reopen in the summer.

"In the end the council agreed to lease the pool to the club over the winter."

The swimming club was instrumental in keeping the lido open and now pays an annual fee of 15,500 for its members to have exclusive use of it during the winter.

'Enjoyable exercise'

For the first time this year John Sherrington, from Crystal Palace, has decided to take the plunge into a lido.

"I only come on hot days," he said.

"It's a chance to get some enjoyable exercise and be in the open-air.

"It's very relaxed - the next best thing to the beach. It would be awful if it wasn't here."

One way to preserve the lidos, Dr Gordon suggests, is to give them "listed" status to prevent their demolition.

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See also:

16 Jul 02 | England
05 Jun 02 | Health
21 Aug 00 | Health
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