Sunday, 8 December 2019

The days of empty Lidos: London Fields and Brockwell Park

I went for a swim a couple of weeks ago for the first time at London Fields Lido. I was surprised how busy it was on a cold and wet November day, even with a heated outdoor pool. Lunch afterwards from the famous Jewish Deli stall on nearby Broadway market was also excellent.

On the way out I bumped into an old friend who swims there regularly and he reminded me that the Lido had only reopened in 2006 having been left closed and empty for many years. He recalled going there when it was squatted and used for events by Reclaim the Streets and others in the 1990s. 

'In at the deep end' - Reclaim the Streets benefit at London Fields Lido, 1993
I didn’t go there then but it was a similar story in South London at Brockwell Park Lido, close to where I used to live in Brixton.  I went there occasionally when I moved to London in the late 1980s, as I recall it was as much a place to hang out in the sun (Brixton beach) as to swim, don't recall too many triathletes bombing up and down the lanes in those days but maybe I was just unaware. The Lido closed in 1990 due to Council funding cuts, but the vacant building was occupied at various points for parties and other events, and I went there a few times - I remember going to visit a friend, a German squatter, when she was living in a room by the side of the pool. A big event was the Exploding Cinema 'Dive In' festival in August 1993, where films were projected in the empty pool. The Lido reopened the following year, and I have been back and actually swum in it with water and everything! Long may it last

'Life is a swimming pool in the terminal bunker' 

Exploding Cinema Dive-In festival  at Brockwell Lido, August 1993 (more at Brixton Buzz)

Hard to believe with the current outdoor swimming revival that we nearly lost these places permanently. Others such as Victoria Park and Peckham Rye Lido were demolished in that 1980s/90s period. There were active plans too to demolish London Fields, with campaigners having to block a bulldozer at one point (see history of campaign to reopen it here). So thanks to the people who in different ways kept the buildings in use in the dark days of the empty Lidos.

The video for Serafina Steer's lovely 'Night before mutiny' (2012) was filmed at London Fields Lido. Directed by Jarvis Cocker, it features Asha Randall and Olivia Federici of the UK Olympic Synchronised swimming team 

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