Hero of the Month - May 2016
May 31, 2016
This month to coincide with the 2016 season opening we have picked not a person, but a whole place - The Sandford Parks Lido.
This outdoor swimming pool is a historical landmark in our hometown of Cheltenham, having first opened in 1935. The very grand opening ceremony was overseen by the Mayor of Cheltenham and signified with the switching on of the cascade aerator (or fountain) which still stands there today.
Lidos became very popular during the 30's and the Cheltenham Lido at the time was the largest in the West Midlands at 165ft by 90ft and holding around 500,000 gallons of water.
It cost £16,000 to build initially in 1935, with the children's pool and cafe being added on a year later.
It stayed open throughout the 2nd World War and even doubled as a place for service men to recuperate, one sergeant referring to it as "Heaven after Hell".
After the American's joined the war in 1942, they even used the car park as a petrol depot for travelling troupes.
With the rising popularity of indoor swimming pools in the 70's the fate of the Lido came in to question in 1982 and almost closed, but was saved by supporters who rallied round and created a well signed petition to keep it open, which kept it safe for a few more years.
However issues were soon to arise on this now 60 year old landmark, and in 1996 a "Save our Lido" campaign was launched to help raise funds to mend the many structural problems. This lead to a few repairs being made, but it was decided something much more would need to be done to raise enough to carry out some major refurbishment.
After negotiations with Cheltenham Borough Council a charitable trust was formed, making Sandford Lido Limited a registered charity. They aim to provide the Lido in the interest of social welfare, with the objective of improving the conditions of life for the residents and visitors of Gloucestershire and the surrounding area. They also get support from ‘Friends of the Lido’ and community organisations. The charity receives income from the operation of Sandford Parks Lido, a license fee for the operation of the café, rental income from Reach Fitness and an annual gift aid from the car park.
In 2006 with the success of a charity campaign and direct funding, the Lido were able to raise enough money to carry out all the major refurbishment plans.
To read more about the exact refurbishment that was carried out, you can read a full history of the Sandford Parks Lido on their website, with load of really interesting history on the fashion of swimming and the popularity of outdoor Lidos.
Weird Fish first got involved with the Lido when they were looking for prizes to hand out at one of their many events over the summer, the GE Aviation Aquathon. This event entails a swim and run over 2 choices of distances open to those as young as 13. It is a great event for those who want to push themselves and overcome a personal challenge.
We loved being involved and now offer prizes for lots more of events in their very busy calendar, including more Aquathons, Triathlons, 2K swims and even night swims.
Apart from swimming related events the Lido opens itself up for loads more family activities such as putting on plays and open air cinema nights. For the full events program visit their website.
This summer very fittingly there will be an open air cinema screening of Jaws taking place through the company Cult Screens, you can even book yourself a deckchair to get comfy in.
The annual Christmas day swim has been taking place at the Lido for over 50 years, and was only cancelled in 2010 when the weather was so extreme the pool froze over! The pool is usually heated to around 24 degrees, but as it is closed over the winter season, will not be heated for Christmas day, and could be as cold as 6 degrees. Still around 100 brave swimmers bite the bullet and jump in this ice bath every year, they say it is good for the heart. You can watch these crazy swimmers in a video taken in 2014.
This photograph was taken by David Jenkins who won a competition run by the British Heart Foundation in 2010
We spoke to Iain Barton the events manager to get his insight into working at the pool.
How long have you worked at the Lido?
My first season at the lido was in 2002. In 2009 I became the Events Manager working throughout the year supporting the other full time members of staff.
Have you ever taken part in any of the events or the Christmas Day swim?
I have competed in the Cheltenham Triathlon a few times but that was in the days when there were 1-200 taking part. Nowadays with 780 competitors there is a lot to organise and manage on race day. I memorably did a test run of the Devil’s Aquathlon with a friend but I confess that I stopped for a drink and some chips before heading off on the run section "Bit of editing on the video for that", then I managed to jump in and complete the inaugural Devil’s 2K Swim
What do you love most about working at the Lido?
Some places have a special something. It is hard to explain what that something is but the lido has it. I think it is the same feeling you get when you walk up a hill and take in a view. The lido feels like a landscape with its surrounding trees and demands that you look up and see the clouds pass by. There is one job that I have always enjoyed doing but nowadays I rarely get the opportunity. A job that most of the staff would rather not do – sweep the pool. At the lido this means getting in the water and sweeping the 50m length slowly. I used to spend hours doing it. Best time for this is when the heavens open. You must try and experience swimming in the rain and what better place to do it than in a heated outdoor pool. We only close the pool in a thunderstorm so don’t be a fair weather outdoor swimmer, after all if you are wet, you’re wet.
How do you feel about Weird Fish sponsoring your 50 uniforms this season?
All of the staff at the lido have the same uniform and it all gets a lot of wear through a summer season, from torrential rain to the hottest day of the year. At the end of a season we have to replace a lot of this uniform which is a significant cost to the charitable trust. The lido would not exist without the support of the local community and we have always tried to partner with local organisations. We are delighted that our association with Cheltenham based Weird Fish has evolved to include providing the uniform for the lido staff. Over the past few years Weird Fish has provided prizes for the lido sporting events and this additional support we hope will be an ongoing partnership. We are extremely grateful for the support of Weird Fish.
We are very proud to be able to help this grand local landmark, and we will all enjoy continuing to use its facilities for many years to come.
If you are visiting Cheltenham come along to the Sandford Parks Lido, it is definitely worth a visit, all details of opening times can be found here.