Liquid asset needing investment

Local lidos were history – and then came global warming. Yvette Huddleston and Walter Swan report on why things are going swimmingly for a 75th anniversary at Ilkley.

It's a wonderful, good-for-your-soul kind of a place and I think we need to make more people aware of it." Becky Malby is talking about Ilkley Lido which under a cobalt sky on a hot summer's day looks as enticing as any foreign beach. In fact in this setting, with the moor and the Cow and Calf rocks in the background, it beats most of them.

The advent of cheap foreign holidays was one of the things that did for lidos around the country some years ago. Now global warming is playing a part in the revival of those that remain. Ilkley is celebrating its 75th anniversary and Becky Malby is the driving force behind

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a Friends group who have ambitious plans for it.

"There was a group of us who used the lido regularly and we just felt that the place was starting to look a little shabby and unloved. So we decided to do something about it."

Ilkley was one of several outdoor pools in Yorkshire. Until fairly recently there were lidos in both Lister Park in Bradford and Roundhay Park in Leeds.

The creation of lidos in the 1930s was part of the health and fitness movement popularised in Germany. The benefit of exercise, particularly in the open air, was gaining recognition and local councils embraced the concept of a swimming pool surrounded by areas for sunbathing, other forms of exercise and a caf.

They were created out of a democratic impulse to provide attractive facilities for all and their construction also provided work for the unemployed during the Depression. Municipal architects were inspired by their brief and created beautiful outdoor spaces in the art deco style fashionable at the time.

Ilkley lido was designed by Frank Skinner, the borough surveyor, and opened in May 1935 as part of King George V's Silver Jubilee. With a large shallow area for children and to encourage beginners, the pool is an unusual curved shape which adds to its architectural interest and rarity. A fountain, part of the original filtration system, remains in place. A caf (still in use) was opened in August 1935. It originally seated 100 people and Taylors of Harrogate ran the catering.

Today, the lido is still going strong, although at the age of 75 it does need a little care and attention. The Friends group, set up just over a year ago, intend to help with that.

"I didn't know about the lido for quite a while after I moved to Ilkley," says Becky Malby. "We have lots of ideas about how to improve and maintain the place, but essentially we just want more and more people to enjoy it."

The Friends group is working with Bradford council who run the lido and with the management of the pool. On a good weekend the lido can get 4,000 people through the door. In its heyday, before the war, it was double that.

The Friends have organised a programme of events this summer which include a theatre performance, a live music evening, a camping night for children in August and a screening of a water-themed movie towards the end of the season in September – possibles are Jaws, The Swimmer and Open Water.

One of the more ambitious projects that the Friends are looking at is renovating the elegant cream and green art deco pavilion. At one time there were changing areas inside the pavilion, today it's storage space. The hope is that it could be transformed into a pay-as-you-go gym and community space to generate more income, while maintaining the frontage as it is a listed building.

"We are in the process of putting in a bid to the Heritage Lottery Fund," says Becky. "We are looking at different ways to use the space

and we would like to organise regular activities during our open season, so that there is something going on every month in the summer."

Many of the 127 lidos which still exist are run by charities: Ilkley is unusual in being council-run which means it is one of the few that remains true to the spirit of the lido movement.

"The regular users of the pool are a really interesting mixture of people," says Becky. "Some who have been swimming here since they were children can tell stories about the high diving boards and then there are the families and more recent arrivals."

Open air swimming has enjoyed something of a renaissance over the past few years. The fact that summers seem to be getting hotter helps.

But another springboard was provided in 2005 by English Heritage who published a book called Liquid Assets.

Its author Janet Smith spent years dipping into lidos around the country and her work prompted two major conferences to discuss lido revivals. Another book, Wild Swim by Kate Rew and Dominick Tyler, has also had an impact.

The lido at Ilkley has triathletes training there regularly and local man Barry Watson, 71, is preparing for a Cross-Channel swim. Rachel Spence and Annette Bearpark are both involved with the Friends group and come to the lido every day with their children throughout the season.

"We've been coming to the lido for years and even on a day when the weather isn't very good, we still come down," says Rachel.

"It's lovely to see the children having such a great time – and they don't seem to mind if the weather isn't sunny."

The water at Ilkley lido is notoriously cold – it starts off at around 14 degrees C at the beginning of the season, rising to 22 C by the end – and there was discussion within the Friends group about the possibility of installing a heating system.

Opinions were divided on whether heating should be introduced; in the end, it proved to be too complicated – mainly because of the pool's unusual shape – and expensive.

"Anyway, heating the pool would have taken away all the pleasure of poolside discussions about how cold the water is, how long it took you to get in and how long you managed to stay in," says Rachel.

Ilkley Lido, open to September. Information: www.ilkleylido.co.uk

Come on in – the water's freezing. Local lidos then and now...

Ingleton still has its 20m by 8m open-air swimming pool, built in 1933 by local volunteers, including striking miners from the New Ingleton Colliery which closed in 1936. The pool, managed by the local community, has recently been improved and modernised. It has an attractive riverside setting. Open daily to the August Bank Holiday weekend and available for private hire.

Helmsley. Not strictly speaking a lido, the open-air pool here was opened in 1969 by the Duke of Norfolk and built by the Feversham Memorial Trust. It was under threat till the mid-1990s but now has a promising future as part of the proposed upgrade of the town's sports and recreation ground. Open to September, seven days a week.

Hathersage. Here on the South Yorkshire Derbyshire border is a magnificent lido opened in 1936. It included tennis courts, a bandstand, sand pit and paddling pool. The pool retains its original veranda, lawns and bandstand, and new changing facilities were added in 2008. Open to September.

Otley. The site of the Otley Lido, built in 1934, now houses the Rainbow Leisure complex.

Scarborough. Scarborough's South Bay lido, a tidal seawater pool, was once one of the largest pools in Europe; it closed in 2003. The site of the North Bay Lido is now luxury flats and the resort's third lido, the Northstead Lido, is also closed.

YP MAG 17/7/10