Campaigners plea for council to take plunge and keep outdoor lidos open for longer
- Credit: Elaine Ross-Smith
A campaign to stretch out the outdoor lido season at two North Herts pools is going from strength to strength - or should we say, length to length - following a rally of support.
Avid swimmers are calling on people in and around Hitchin and Letchworth to sign their petition to extend the summer season, when the outdoor pools are open, by an extra two months.
The heated outdoor pools at Hitchin and Letchworth generally open from the end of May, around half term time, until early September. This petition, organised by Hitchin regular Sue Foster, proposes the summer season starts on April 1 and runs until the end of September, on the grounds of health, community and tourism.
Explaining that the pandemic played a part in pitching the petition, Sue said landlocked swimmers - who have limited access to open water - had little alternative to a daily dip while lockdown measures were in place.
"It hit swimmers really hard, lockdown, because there was no way that they could do anything to replicate swimming. Our outdoor pools were closed last summer. Every year, we say that we wished it was open for longer; we all say it!"
She explained that this summer, Hitchin and Letchworth lidos opened later than other outdoor facilities around the country - which prompted enthusiastic swimmer Sue and her fellow bathers to travel elsewhere for an outdoor dip.
Hitchin and Letchworth boast 50m heated outdoor pools, with the next nearest facilities of this specification miles away in Peterborough and London.
Expressing their loyalty to their local lidos, she exclaimed: "There are absolutely loads of us who swim there every day, come rain or shine.
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"We only go somewhere else if our place is shut.
"I think, this year - because we appreciated it so much this summer - we thought we could try and do something about it," she added, noting that Hitchin's extra week of opening was well received.
And Sue's not alone in her campaign to North Hertfordshire Council to extend the season to more than a little over three months.
The petition, in Sue's words, "seems to be storming along" after attracting more than 500 signatures in the first 24 hours. Now, eight days in, the petition has truly made waves, having surpassed the 1,000 signature mark, with others still encouraged to sign.
"You make so many friends at the outdoor pool. People come from all over the region, and you see people that only come down in the summer, and it's such a good social scene.
"People of all ages and all walks of life have this wonderful thing in common; that we like outdoor swimming!" Sue exclaimed, beaming at the outpouring of support.
"I've been quite overwhelmed by it, actually."
Sue added: "Swimming in a lido is unlike swimming anywhere else. You're outdoors, in nature. There are lovely people to make friends with. It's just an all-round mentally and physically uplifting experience, and anybody that swims in them knows exactly what I mean.
"That first day when it opens in May is so wonderful, because you know you've got weeks and weeks of it ahead. And that last day is so sad, it really is.
"People have realised what an extremely precious resource they are. I think it'd be very difficult to close pools now, because there'd be such a huge backlash. I just hope that SLL and the council are going to look at it positively."
Both Hitchin and Letchworth lidos - which cost thousands of pounds on a weekly basis to run - are operated by Stevenage Leisure Limited.
In light of this, Sue has alternatively proposed that if seasons cannot be extended due to expense, the opening can be staggered so the pools remain available for longer without breaking the bank.
"We'd love for them both to be open for longer. A lot of people have asked in their comments on the petition why they can't be open all year, but I think that's a step too far.
She joked: "We've got to do baby steps, here! And just get it to be open for that little bit longer."
In a joint statement from North Hertfordshire Council and Stevenage Leisure Limited, a representative said: “There are significant costs involved in running the outdoor pools and these alongside environmental and operational implications would need to be considered.
"We – the council and SLL – are currently reviewing the usage from this year’s season, including the one week extension, and this information will be presented to the council’s cabinet before any decisions are made about next year’s season.”
To pledge your support of the extension of the opening period at Hitchin and Letchworth outdoor pools, visit change.org.