Swimmers return to outdoor pools as some lockdown measures are lifted

11 July 2020, 15:29

Swimmers return to some outdoor pools in England

Nick Hardinges

By Nick Hardinges

Swimmers across England returned to some outdoor pools on Saturday following a further relaxation of lockdown measures.

Culture Secretary Oliver Dowden gave outdoor pools the green light to reopen from Saturday onwards while speaking at the Government's coronavirus press conference on Thursday.

Indoor pools, gyms and other sports facilities will be free to follow suit from 25 July.

In south-east London, Charlton Lido and Lifestyle Club was among the venues to reopen its doors to customers, although safety measures were in place, such as new signs, cleaning routines and online bookings.

Jessica Walker and Nicola Foster were two of the swimmers enjoying the pool at the lido, with both coming prepared by wearing floral swimming caps and pearls, and each carrying an inflatable flamingo.

Ms Walker said she was "overjoyed" to be back after their last swim on 20 March and said the new safety process had worked smoothly.

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Swimmers returned to Charlton Lido and Lifestyle Club in London on Saturday
Swimmers returned to Charlton Lido and Lifestyle Club in London on Saturday. Picture: PA

"We've been heartbroken ever since because we swam every single morning and we were just in a very good place psychically and mentally, and then lockdown happened," she said.

"There are no two happier women here today. It's been so good to be back - it's been better than I imagined."

Ms Foster added: "We have been quite giddy with excitement, actually."

However, the pair were disappointed outdoor pools had reopened after other businesses, particularly pubs, with Ms Walker adding: "It has been very hazy and disappointing for us because I don't see how you can socially distance in a pub and not in a swimming pool."

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Outdoor pools were given the green light to open today by culture secretary Oliver Dowden
Outdoor pools were given the green light to open today by culture secretary Oliver Dowden. Picture: PA

Paul Johnston, another swimmer at the south-east London facility, said he was glad to be back in the pool because he is training for a triathlon.

He said: "I cycled in from Crystal Palace. There are some lidos more local to Crystal Palace but this was the only one I could find that was open today.

"I've been desperate to swim so it was a bit of a no-brainer to be honest.

"It's good to just be back to something resembling normality."

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Hampstead Heath's ponds also reopened on Saturday
Hampstead Heath's ponds also reopened on Saturday. Picture: PA

Another popular site to reopen on Saturday was Hampstead Heath's four outdoor swimming facilities.

Swimmers took to the ladies', men's and mixed ponds in the north-London park, as well as the Parliament Hill lido.

However, a number of new measures in place mean that normality remains a few steps away.

Among the changes are only allowing 85 people in the Parliament Hill lido at any one time, while only 20 to 30 swimmers are allowed per session in the heath's other smaller pools.

Staggered sessions have been introduced to allow time for cleaning between groups.

Swimmers could only access the heath's pools via an online-booking system, with some people complaining they were unable to access the website to book slots.

City of London Corporation said lifeguards working at Hampstead Heath have received specialist training with adaptations to allow them to maintain social distancing if they need to assist swimmers in the water.

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Anne Fairweather, chair of the City of London Corporation's Hampstead Heath, said: "I love swimming outdoors and it's been really hard these last few months, especially with such glorious weather.

"With the announcement at 5 o'clock on Thursday, we really rushed to get this out and get going.

"The website has been really popular, as you can imagine, so we're just testing out those facilities, making sure we're happy with the way it's running and then we can easily add in more sessions."

However, many other outdoor pools did not reopen on Saturday despite the easing of restrictions.

Everyone Active, which manages five outdoor pools on behalf of local authorities in Plymouth, Hemel Hempstead, Stroud and Ashby-de-la-Zouche, said its facilities will remain shut for the time being, with some saying the short space of time since the culture secretary's announcement has not allowed them to prepare for reopening.

The Serpentine lido in London's Hyde Park, which reopened this week to members of the Serpentine swimming club, will remain closed to the public.

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