The last summer bank holiday of the year in days gone by used to mean just one thing: Notting Hill Carnival. Meeting up with friends at either Good Times to hear Norman Jay, or Sancho Panza for Jimmy K-Tel or Matt Brown, drink too many lagers, Carnival had become a yearly ritual until quite recently with the arrival of my daughter.
Instead of getting involved with Carnival madness this year (with a twinge of regret), I decided to travel against the traffic and head across to London Fields to enjoy a swim at the magnificent London Fields Lido, the capital’s only Olympic sized heated outdoor swimming pool.
I used to live in Hackney, or more accurately Clapton Pond, and have really bad memories of the area. Living with a (borderline) psycho brother, getting mugged a couple of times, not really enjoying the work I was doing – to be honest I was more than happy to move south of the river to the relative peace and quiet of Balham.
I am so glad I made the trip. Not only did I enjoy a first class lunch of lamb cutlets and mutton karahi at Lahore Kebab House, Whitechapel, but a lazy swim in this wonderful (yet surprisingly empty) pool, was the perfect antidote to all of the hustle and bustle you generally associate with Hackney and Bethnal Green. It completely changed my perception of the area, and I aim to return on a more frequent basis.
The Lido first opened in 1932 and remained open until the war. It reopened in 1951, the year of the Festival of Britain that celebrated recovery from the war, until its closure in 1988. It was closed – like many others across London – by funding cuts in 1988. In fact off the 68 Lido’s and open-air pools in the Greater London area at the time, there was eventually to be only 10 surviving in use – Thatcher has a lot to answer for!!
Described by the local council as a ‘blot on the landscape’, London Fields Lido proved to occupy a special place in the heart of the community. For 18 years local people campaigned to have it re-opened, including a close call with the bulldozers in 1989 when they managed to halt the planned demolition. They followed this with a series of petitions and more campaigning to save the pool, which re-opened in October 2006 at a cost £2.5million
Once reopened, it promptly won the Golden Goggles Award that year for the best place to swim outdoors in London. It is easy to understand why. The incredible 50m pool – which holds 350,000 gallons of perfectly temperate water – has been refurbished with care, sensitivity and an eye for attention, transforming this art deco icon into what locals are now referring to as ‘Hackney Rivera’.
The pool which is run by GLL and part of its fantastic Swim London campaign, is open seven days a week, with adult lane swimming available at allocated times and general swimming on offer at all other times, however two swim lanes will be available at all times during weekdays.
Get yourself down to London Fields Lido, the water is warm. The vista ain’t too bad either.