For the past 25 years, Hull’s lido has been out of bounds to everyone except the ducks and the local canoe club. Situated in the ward of Newington and Gipsyville, one of the most deprived neighbourhoods in Britain, Albert Avenue pool is surrounded by terraced houses whose occupants had long given up hope of ever taking to its waters without a kayak.
Now, as part of its plans to “build a better society” post pandemic, 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 as outdoor swimming soars in popularity.
For those lucky enough to live near a lido, bagging a swimming slot last summer was like getting a ticket for Glastonbury. Denied overseas holidays, more and more people discovered the joys of swimming under open skies, prompting a booking frenzy during the front crawl rush-hour.
Once upon a time, most UK towns and cities had lidos. But by the 1990s, most had closed or been filled with concrete, the victims of cheap package holidays and ever tighter municipal 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, said 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 10 years, reopening a lido may seem a luxury to some. Not so, said 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.”
The Albert Avenue lido will mean residents will not ‘have to live in a swanky part of town’ to enjoy it, says Hull’s deputy council leader. Photograph: Hodson Architects
Other lidos expected to open in 2022 include Cleveland pools in Bath, Britain’s oldest outdoor lido dating back more than 200 years; and Sea Lanes in Brighton, a brand new 50-metre outdoor pool on a privately run site billing itself as “the first national open water swimming centre of excellence”.
In Salford in Greater Manchester, near the BBC’s northern home of Media City, a new development called Cotton Quays is set to include a lido as well as 1,500 homes, two hotels and floating gardens.
Other areas are yet to be convinced of the mass appeal of open-air swimming. In Kenilworth, Warwickshire, the council is looking to demolish an outdoor pool and replace it with two indoor pools, prompting dozens of objections. And in Merseyside, campaigners trying to build the People’s Pool – a replacement for the demolished lido on New Brighton promenade – had a setback last week when Wirral council withdrew seed funding for the project, citing budget pressures.
Across the country, dogged local campaigners continue pushing for their own outdoor pools to reopen. Phil Bradby, who runs Save Grange Lido in Cumbria, takes heart from the developments in Hull and beyond.
“When I started Save Grange Lido 10 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 said.