True BLU

Our cafe by the water

And so that was the lovely lido season for another year. Ah, you say that…

*shhh* we’ve got another couple of weeks to sneak in before the shutters are finally, finally closed poolside in SE24.

It was therefore somewhat strange to be meeting up with the good folk of Brockwell Lido Users (BLU) for our annual AGM on Saturday morning, with the waters of Lake Brockwell still glistening and tempting us in for another fortnight of early morning tepid swims. Careful for what you wish for, and all that.

The BLU AGM is traditionally a reflective meeting, and one of some sadness, with the prospect of no more outdoor swimming planned for another eight months or so. Not so on Saturday morning in the packed splendid surrounds of our newly refurbished cafe by the water.

I’m proud to announce we have decided to keep the lido open for a further two weeks,” declared Paul Maier, pool manager for Fusion. In terms of winning over an audience, the declaration of intent led to the first spontaneous applause for the morning. That’s the healing power of free cappuccinos and croissants. The cold reality of 7am on Monday morning might not be so welcoming.

I love these BLU AGM events. I tick off my tally of attendance in the same way I used to keep a count of how many girls I had snogged at school. That’s school as is *my* schooldays, and not the day job. Phew.

There’s a sense of the lido community coming together for one final time of the season. Work schedules and lie-ins often mean that you know all the lido regulars, but rarely get to see each other in the same room at the same time – fully clothed as well. Blimey.

Chairperson Melanie Marther opened the AGM by reminding members of the issues raised last year: a disappointing cafe, small changing rooms, talk of a Triathlon club and the need for pool railings. Testament to the power of BLU as a lobbying group, plus the willingness of leaseholders Fusion to actually listen to the users – all of the items on the agenda twelve months ago have now been actioned.

Fusion Finance Director Ivan Parkinson addressed the floor first:

“2009 has been a very good year. Increased usage and structural improvement had led to the lido being the most successful site for Fusion. Pool improvement will continue, with no price increase for next season.”

Ah, the lido prices. This has been a point of concern for some. I think my £150 season ticket represents superb value for money. It also serves as an incentive to dive into the waters of Lake Brockwell each morning. I’m not sure I would feel the same if I was paying £5.25 for a single swim.

Maier then explained the finer details on the 2009 season:

“The twenty-six week season of swimming is the longest the lido has been open in the modern era. In total, 44,333 swims took place – a figure up 11,000 on the 2008 season. This has been the busiest summer for Fusion, with on average, 283 swims a day. 30th June saw 2,313 swimmers. The average water temperature from May to October was 21.2 degrees.”

That’s a hell of a lot of lido lovers, and a figure that Fusion and BLU should both be equally proud of. Lidos can be the most amazing environment during the heat wave days, such as 30th June; the flipside is that they can be thoroughly miserable during dour weather.

Maier then outlined the notorious algae situation, which led to the lido being closed for forty-eight hours at the start of September:

“We increased the chlorine, but not enough to suppress the seasonal increase in trout fly. The seasonal conditions of a cool August, followed by a bright early autumn, were perfect for an increase in fly activity. Next season we are experimenting with a chlorine free solution.”

With water temperatures currently at 14 degrees, its no surprise that we haven’t seen too many of those pesky trout flies around in recent weeks.

About those the pool temperature: we swim outdoors because we want to. It’s a natural experience, and one that invigorates your limbs in a way that the sterile, sweaty and soulless surrounds of Brixton or Clap’ham can’t compete with. Maier confirmed that the possibility of heating the lido all year round has been explored:

“The solar power option used by the newly opened Bristol lido would cost a pool our size £180,000 per year. No company is prepared to give a guarantee of pool temperatures for this outlay. A heated pool is still a possibility, but not at the standard indoor temperature of 28 degrees. Our swimmers appreciate 18 – 21 degrees.”

Fusion site manager Jeremy Lake then explained the importance of the lido as a recognised local facility for swimming, rather than just sitting around poolside:

“The lido is now a swimming destination and not just a hot weather location. We need to treat extended swimming into the season as an evolution. School swimming is important for promoting the lido as a community facility.”

The ‘evolution of swimming’ is well underway. There is a momentum in place now that is difficult to ignore. We went to the end of September in 2008, and a month later still for 2010. Plans were hatched for a Brockwell Lido Swimming Club during the AGM, using the Tooting based South London Swimming Club as a model for all year round swimming.

Next to address the AGM was Caroline Burhard from Whippersnappers, a children’s organisation that was established at the lido back in 1994. As ever, this was an inspiring, breathless speech. Whippersnappers are good, good people. They are achieving some truly brilliant results here on the ground in South London, continually punching above their weight and leading the way for young people in the area. They deserve your support. Long may Whippersnappers be an active presence at the lido.

The many splendid activities organised at the lido over the past twelve months were then outlined by Gethan Dick, the Heritage Education Co-ordinator at Brockwell.

“What has been really pleasing has been to witness how initial events that we set up over the past three years have now become established. Users are expecting these to happen, and they have become calendar events. The midwinter swim attracted 400 brave souls on the Saturday before Christmas, with all money raised donated to Age Concern. This event is confirmed for the 19th of December 2009.

The Modern Movement Art Deco Fair is a great season starter, with 2,500 visitors over the May Bank Holiday. We doubled out schools programme this season, with 1,600 South London children getting the opportunity to swim at the lido. The artist in residence project has functioned as a fantastic public art project once again.

The Rider event, linking Brockwell up with our friends at Parliament Hill lido was well supported. We plan to include Charlton Lido next year, encouraging bicyclists to make the journey between all three venues on the same day, and compare their experiences. It is good for the lido community to learn from one another.”

A quick pause for coffee, and that was most of the main business of the BLU AGM over with. It got slightly surreal with a form passed to me for completion, asking:

What are your memories of water?

Um, wetting myself for the first time?

Feedback sessions followed. The main points from the floor seemed to be a desire for all-year round swimming, earlier weekend opening (currently 10am) and also a request for nude swimming sessions. Count me in.

And then all that was left was for the traditional BLU AGM question from the lone lido nutter sitting in the corner, asking the Man from Lambeth Council:

“What progress has been made in the past twelve months to introduce a Lambeth wide swimming scheme? I don’t see why I have to pay GLL to swim in Lambeth owned pools, and then take out a second membership scheme with Fusion to swim in another pool owned by Lambeth.”

With apologies to my fellow BLU members, but it is a question I will continue to ask each year until (i) I get an answer, (ii) the uniform membership is rolled out or (iii) I bugger off to Wivenhoe in search of nude swimming sessions at the nearby Brightlingsea Lido. I think you know what the most likely scenario will be.

The Man from Lambeth Council replied by repeating the same answer he gave me back in the spring at the Clap’ham Users Forum: the recession has meant that we are short on money and can’t subsidise.

Aren’t we all, Bruv. Still at least it was an alternative from previous years when a “compatible turnstile system for different sites is still being looked into,” was offered as a response one year, and “the pool is part of the park services, and not leisure,” at another AGM. I love creativity within my Council employees.

Same place, same time, same question next year.

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