Emma Pusill, co-author of The Lido Guide, updates us on the uncertain future of lidos and outdoor venues and how we can support them.
The irony of our commercially operated outdoor swimming venues being forced to close at a time when there has been explosive growth in the uptake of outdoor swimming will be lost on none of us.
Of course, we all understand the vital public health reasons for the pandemic restrictions. The data on the rise in new Coronavirus cases and deaths, every one of which represents unbearable loss and sadness, is stark. We all want to be part of the solution to that, not part of the problem.
While we all recognise the impact on us, as individuals, of reduced access to safe, supervised swimming, the impact on the operators of these venues is potentially far more powerful. While staff can be furloughed, the fixed costs of running a swim venue can be high, and they don’t go away. Businesses will also have incurred considerable extra costs to become Covid-compliant for the periods of 2020 that they were able to open and those costs were incurred at a time when income was down due to restricted numbers allowed to use the facility.
The word we are looking for to describe the immediate future for our swim venues is tough. Very tough wouldn’t be overstating it. We may see some of them go out of business completely. It will be difficult to get a true sense of how big a risk that is until the government-backed Coronavirus financial support schemes begin to be withdrawn.
So, what can we swimmers do to help? Right now, few venues are asking for financial support. They recognise that times are tough for many, so even those venues run by charities, like the majority of our publicly accessible lidos, aren’t reaching out for donations.
But that time will likely come and when it does, if we value our favourite swim spots, we need to be prepared to step up and put our hands in our pockets if we possibly can. Make sure you follow your favourite venue on social media. That will give you the latest updates on any reopening plans, but it will also mean that if a call for help comes you can rally to it. It’s also fair to say that continuing social media engagement with swimmers is a huge morale boost for operators during the dark days of enforced closure.
Some operators are throwing out little online challenges to keep people involved; like Nottingham City Open Water Swimming Centre laying down the Wim Hof 20-day cold shower challenge.
If you have a little money spare you can always reach out to your favourite venue and offer a donation. A number of volunteer-run lidos have reported that they have felt incredibly supported and so grateful for proactive donations.
And if you have a membership for a venue, consider leaving your membership fee in place during closure if you can afford to.
When venues, whether commercial or charitable run, do reopen, why not offer to volunteer for them in some capacity? If you can make even a small regular commitment of time, that will help them to keep costs down so their reduced income can stretch further.
It will also help your venue if you do your homework thoroughly before visiting when they do reopen. Do your best to understand their new systems and processes before you arrive. Book in advance wherever possible. Please don’t complain to them about restrictions and be understanding if they’ve had to raise their prices as a result.
Reach out to your favourite swim venue in whatever way you can. Their survival may very well depend on it.
Emma Pusill is the co-author of The Lido Guide, a celebration of all publicly accessible open-air pools in the UK and Channel Islands