New hope for lidos to be open longer this summer

Hitchin and Letchworth outdoor pools could be open for longer this coming summer season

Hitchin and Letchworth outdoor pools could be open for longer this coming summer season, thanks to a petition started by Hitchin regular Sue Foster - Credit: Archant

Although the warmer months may feel like a distant memory with Christmas fast approaching, a petition to extend the summer outdoor pool season at Hitchin and Letchworth's lidos is continuing to make a splash.

North Herts Council has accepted the petition, and will give up the floor to petition organiser Sue Foster at a full council meeting on January 20, 2022.

"Absolutely delighted" that the petition, which she holds close to her heart, has gained so much traction in the local community, Sue hopes that her five-minutes audience with the council will extend the length of the season for an extra month or so.

"It took a little back and forth to get here but I'm really delighted. I'm going to talk about a lot of the emotional stuff and the human angle and share some people's stories and what the outdoor pool's done for them."

At present, the heated outdoor pools at Hitchin and Letchworth generally open from the end of May, around half term time, until early September.

Hitchin regular Sue proposes the summer season should start on April 1, and run until the end of September, on the grounds of health, community and tourism.

She previously told the Comet that the pandemic played a part in pitching the petition, as landlocked swimmers - who have limited access to open water - had little alternative to a daily dip while lockdown measures were in place.

And even though pools are now open up and down the country, Sue said that there's "so much more" to swimming in the open air.

"I think that a lot of people who aren't swimmers don't understand the difference. 'Indoors, outdoors, it's just swimming and it doesn't make a lot of difference.' So I've got to try and get across as to why it's different.

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"It's not stuffy or too hot. You can look up and see the birds and hear nature and stuff. All you can hear inside is noise!

"Outdoor swimming is so refreshing and is wonderful in horrible weather. You get a real feeling of the environment when the weather's horrible. When it's been pouring with rain, that's when I've had some of the best swims I've ever had!"

Sue hopes, regardless of the success of her crusade, that her petition has shone a shining light on the wonderful facilities we have right on our doorstep that can be used whatever the weather.

"One of the problems is that people don't realise that it's heated - and well heated."

She added: "The other days that it's brilliant is when it's cold and the mist is rising off the water and you can't see to the other end of the pool. It's just otherworldly. They're cracking good days. 

"If people realise that you're not going to get cold, a lot more people would brave it!"

Sue has taken time to research other lidos that have taken the plunge this year in opening their outdoor facilities for longer, which has been an overwhelming success.

"I just hope that the council listens to us and they take some of it on board, because we are really aware of the financial aspects of staying open.

She added: "But we really think that there must be a way around it, because the benefits of it from a physical point of view are wonderful because it's 50 metres, it's twice as long. But mentally, there's just nothing like it.

"To see people, the smiles on everybody's faces, that's the best thing. Even on the days when it's really busy. It's boiling hot, there are loads of kids in there - those days are still lovely, because everyone is laughing - and that's got to be really good for the mental health of our towns."

One thing Sue noticed when she was collecting signatures for her petition, of which she received over 1,000, is that more than nine in every 10 were from Hitchin, Letchworth and the wider North Herts area, and not just avid swimmers from a niche community.

"That's just been so wonderful," she said.

"Everyone's such a friendly bunch, and it's all so inclusive. It's just the most friendly, delightful place. It's very hard for people who don't swim there to understand this.

"I'm not giving up with this one.

"We're so lucky to have not one but two beautiful pools. Very different pools, but beautiful ones. 

"I've put my heart and soul into this. It means so much to me."