Open air swimming has enjoyed a renaissance in the UK, and this is being reflected in the number of historic lidos being restored and reopened around the country. The Guardian reports that three new or renovated outdoor pools are set to open in England this year, and campaigns are underway to restore other mothballed pools.

During the pandemic, thousands of people discovered the joys of outdoor swimming for the first time, as indoor pools and gyms were closed for months on end. Many people decided to continue with open air swimming even as indoor leisure centres reopened, and the Outdoor Swimming Society reports that membership has increased from 100,000 to 170,000.

The rise in demand has led to lidos that traditionally closed for the winter months to remain open all year round either heated or unheated, and for disused lidos to be brought back into operation. As well as being a valuable public health resource, many lidos have special architectural merit and some are even listed structures.

On example is the Grade II* listed Saltdean Lido in Brighton. The 1930s Art Deco style pool and adjacent buildings were almost demolished in 2010 to make way for a block of flats after falling into disrepair. However, a successful campaign by local residents saw the facility saved and a restoration process began.

After grants from heritage organisations and council funding, the main pool reopened in 2017, and the entire facility is set to reopen fully later this year, with a café and restaurant, a library, a ballroom, and community rooms. Other pools set to open this year include Bath’s Cleveland Pools, Hull’s Albert Avenue Pools, and Sea Lanes on Brighton seafront.

Eilish McGuinness, the chief executive of The National Lottery Heritage Fund, which has supplied millions towards lido restoration, 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.”

She added: “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.”

Lidos were extremely popular with the British public during the 1920s and 30s, when hundreds of outdoor pools were built around the country, often to a high standard of architecture. All social classes and genders mixed freely, and they were inclusive spaces that made exercise and recreation accessible to all.

Sadly many lidos fell into disrepair during the 1960s, when indoor leisure centres and cheaper holidays abroad made outdoor swimming in the UK less popular. However the health benefits of cold water swimming are now widely recognised, with many people finding it helps to boost their mood and ease stress and also gain physical stamina. 

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Tommy Reed