Swimming costumes are probably the first thing that people pack when going on holiday. Which is not surprising given that swimming – or lying by a pool or on the beach – is one of life’s great pleasures. But increasingly, we needn’t travel abroad to enjoy the experience as a renaissance in open-air lidos means we’re now doing it much closer to home.
Last week saw the reopening of the Victoria Baths in Manchester, which represents another victory for those pushing to re-introduce what our forbears already knew, that open-air swimming is fun, healthy and cheap.
Admittedly, the UK’s weather can’t compete with the Mediterranean, or even further afield, but the distance that a swimmer has to travel to reach a municipal swimming pool, is considerably less too and fewer air miles means its kinder on our planet.
Lidos are re-opening all around the country at a growing rate and although we’ll never return to the number of lidos available to swimmers in the 1930s (when 169 were built up and down the country) the 31 lidos remaining are being transformed once again.
As well as the Manchester Baths, other gems that have been rescued include the Brockwell Lido and Charlton Lido, both in South London, the High Wycombe lido and, in the South West, the Jubilee Pool in Penzance. Work has started too on restoring the King’s Meadow lido in Reading, Berkshire – which will be fed by water from the River Thames. The team behind this restoration can already point to the successful re-opening and restoration of a lido in Clifton, near Bristol.
And what architectural gems these buildings represent too. Bristol’s lido is a Grade II-listed building and the Manchester building, once phase 2 opens, will boast lavish marble Turkish baths originally built in 1906.
This growing movement has helped stave of closure of some that had already been earmarked for demolition, such as the Saltdean lido near Brighton or one in Peckham which, although not yet safe, is the subject of a local campaign that enjoys considerable local support.
Of course, economics plays a part here. After all, renovating a building that has no roof and doesn’t need heating can be considerably cheaper than renovating, say, a heated indoor pool.
But the primary driver seems to be a growing desire by people to be outdoors, and to get in the water and swim. (Even if it is just for one minute!)