Bracing in Brixton: Big Swim Day at Brockwell Lido

Today is Big Swim Day – a national event aiming to demonstrate local support for public swimming pools at a time of unprecedented pressure.

It’s also just a daily dip for many of the brave swimmers at Brixton’s Brockwell Lido, donning their neoprene gloves and socks.

Originally opened in 1937, the lido has closed and reopened twice since: first by two ex-council employees and, when mounting maintenance costs made their management untenable, by a three-way coalition of the council, users, and a site management company following a strong campaign by local swimmers.

Manager Martin Park says the pool remains a hub of the community – “something everybody can enjoy, summer or winter.”

This morning, early swimmers ranged from a gaggle of twenty-something young professionals taking a quick plunge before work, to retired couples who enter the 9.4 degree water without so much as a gasp, and swim lap after lap in graceful unison. 

Today’s forecast at Brockwell Lido.

For Sarah, Hannah and Ashley, it’s the first swim of the season – two weeks earlier than they attempted last winter. 

They’ve come for a social swim, chatting away as they paddle up and down the length of the lido. The trick, Hannah says, is to get in slow and steady.

Harry has also come before work with a colleague. He’s only started regularly swimming here this winter, but says he loves the community of it – “a bunch of shivering people just nattering away around the pool.”

By 8.30, the cafe opens, and swimmers begin to arrive in larger quantities, stripping off scarfs and coats to reveal a real variety of suits – some full wetsuits, caps, and socks, others just a simple suit or speedo. 

By 8.30 the sun was out, the cafe open, and a new rush of brave swimmers arriving.

Lauren and Alex catch my eye, gliding through the water deep in conversation, bobbing heads encased in colourful woolly hats. 

It’s Lauren’s first winter swim in the lido, and she says it’s made her a little bit delirious – I say she stayed in for a remarkably long time, considering. 

The chest is the worst bit, she explains. “After that you’re just numb.” 

Alex, meanwhile, has been coming for around five years, and swims almost every morning year-round. 

Her favourite thing about the lido is the people – or, she adds, those occasional cloudless swims when she gets to the far end of the pool and catches a glimpse of the winter sun above the trees. 

“It’s like therapy,” she says.

HATS ESSENTIAL: Alex and Lauren in their woolly caps – now slightly damp.

This seems to be a common theme amongst Brockwell Lido’s swimmers. 

Cath and Maria – for whom this is the second and seventh winter of lido swimming, respectively – say they’re now addicted to the endorphin rush. 

Whatever’s going on, it’s a moment of turning off,’ they say. Plus, cold water can really help with symptoms of menopause. 

They come most days, and are properly kitted out with what I’ve come to realise is the sign of a lido regular – a sleeping bag-cum-jacket contraption known as the Dryrobe. 

JUST CHILLIN: Gillam, Ruben, Derayo, Tom, and Sam of the Alleynians rugby club, who very impressively posed for a photo while still IN the water.

In sharp contrast with these soft-spoken ladies – and the majority of the pool’s largely 40+ clientele by this point in the morning – are the five rugby lads who emerge from the changing room at a sharp clip, before diving in at the deep end. 

One climbs out halfway along, and the others cheer him on to get back in, complete the lap. 

They’re members of the Alleynians rugby club, and are relatively new to Brockwell Lido – first coming earlier this winter when the pool put on a free coffee and pastry event for swimmers.

“We came for the free stuff, and just stayed,” one admits. 

By 9.30, I decide it’s my turn to take the plunge. I take the most popular advice – don’t hesitate – and charge in. For about five seconds. 

But I decide that’s enough, and also the manager has offered me a quick sauna to warm up before I return to the office. 

Local community pools like Brockwell Lido are facing unprecedented financial challenges – with many heated public pools at risk of closure following the recent Government recision to massively scale back financial support. 

The Big Swim initiative, started by Community Leisure, aims to draw attention to the importance of public pools to local communities. 

“We’re encouraging everybody to take part, even if your pool isn’t under threat,” commented Kirsty Cummings, CEO of Community Leisure UK. 

“This is a great way to show support for other pools that are and make as much noise as possible about why we love swimming in the UK.”

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