Cambridgeshire

Coronavirus: 'This lido would usually be packed'

Jesus Green Lido in Cambridge
Image caption George Pemberton said it had been "all hands on deck" to reopen Jesus Green Lido in Cambridge

As temperatures soar, an outdoor pool might seem the perfect place to cool down. But while some lidos are thriving, others are struggling to keep their heads above water.

For Will Morrish, this is "the only oasis in Cambridge".

The 27-year-old runs an events business and has worked non-stop since lockdown eased.

Image caption Will Morrish said Jesus Green Lido in Cambridge was an "oasis"

On this hot July day, Jesus Green Lido is the perfect place to "relax and recharge".

"When it was shut, I was almost tempted to jump the fence," he says.

The pool reopened last weekend, allowing people to book one-hour slots online or via an app.

There is a one-way system, capacity has been reduced from 380 to 75 and there are separate lanes for fast, medium and slow swimming.

Image caption Lidos that have reopened have introduced new rules and restrictions for swimmers

Jess, 29, and Anna, 26, used the new booking system and were among about 50 swimmers taking a dip on Friday morning.

For Jess, it was her first time at the lido but she says the atmosphere is "chilled and nice" and it feels "like a safe space".

Temperatures had already topped 28C (82F) by the time the friends arrived.

Image caption Jess and Anna took the opportunity for an outdoor swim in Cambridge

Anna says it is "good to enjoy a swim outdoors".

"There's nowhere else you can do that," she says.

Richard Murrant, 36 from Cambridge, has been visiting the lido two to three times a week each summer for the past six years.

Image caption Richard Murrant says the pool would normally be "packed"

"There's enough people that it still feels alive but not filling up too much," he says.

"By this time last year it would usually be packed."

Duty Manager George Pemberton, of Better, a charitable social enterprise that runs the pool, says past success has been a key factor in the lido being able to reopen.

"Income wise, I don't think we've been hit too badly," he says.

"We did well the last couple of seasons and that's helped carry us through."

Image caption George Pemberton says various measures have been introduced to make the pool safe

Mr Pemberton got the call a "couple of weeks ago" to say they would be reopening and says it has been "all hands on deck" ever since.

Social distancing, closing some changing areas and increased cleaning are among the measures introduced to combat coronavirus.

"Luckily, we have opened - unlike other lidos - and we are quite happy that we are open," he says.

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About 40 miles (64km) up the road, it is a very different story in another city as the future of Peterborough Lido hangs in the balance.

It is a far cry from last summer, when it was so popular that more than 150 people queued outside one day.

Image copyright TERRY-HARRIS.COM
Image caption Peterborough Lido pictured on a sunny day in 2019

This year, the water has turned an unappealing dark shade of green due to algae and the city council says a donor would need to come forward "in the next few days" if it was to have any chance of reopening this summer.

It did not open as usual in May due to coronavirus but things became more complicated after Vivacity, the charity that operates it, handed back its contract to the city council because of funding issues in June.

Image copyright TERRY-HARRIS.COM
Image caption The pool has turned green due to algae

Stewart Francis, Vivacity's chair of trustees, said the pool would need to be drained and re-filled. More staff would also be needed to ensure thorough cleaning and that social distancing was being adhered to.

The lido is currently in the midst of a 90-day transition where the operating of the lido and its staff is being transferred to Peterborough City Council.

Vivacity said that due to Covid-19 and reductions in council contributions, trustees "could not see a viable financial future" in operating the lido and other leisure facilities in the city.

Image caption Peterborough Lido originally opened in 1936

John Peach, the former mayor of the city, has offered £10,000 of his own money to help what he describes as "an important and iconic facility".

"When it's nice weather there is not nothing better than swimming in the open air," he says.

"It's ironic that this year the lido is needed more than ever and this is the only season it hasn't opened.

"Even when Hitler bombed it, it still opened."

Image copyright Friends of Peteroborough Lido
Image caption Peterborough Lido was damaged by bombs during World War Two

There are more than 100 outdoor public swimming baths around the UK - many restored and run by community groups.

But it is not just Peterborough Lido that failed to reopen this year.

Some outdoor pool operators say the government decision they they could reopen earlier this month came too late.

It did not allow them enough time to go through the process of cleaning and filling pools and meeting both water-quality and coronavirus safety standards, they say.

Janet Martin, Chair of Friends of Peterborough Lido, is hopeful about its future and believes lidos come with obvious benefits.

They offer "physical and mental health benefits from swimming outdoors, community spirit amongst those who swim there, irreplaceable heritage value and the uniqueness of an art deco pool", she says.

But she is focusing on a permanent solution in Peterborough rather than any short-term fix.

"Our priority has to be to campaign for the long-term survival of our lido rather than risking the health and safety of lido visitors," she says.

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