If you’ve seen me looking gloomy recently, it’s probably got something to do with the news that Tooting Bec Lido — my most beloved spot in London — is closed for repairs, and unlikely to open until August at the earliest.
Call me dramatic, but I’m not sure how I’ll get through summer without it. The healing blue waters of England’s largest freshwater pool have become my go-to happy place over recent years: the one place I can rely on to boost my mood and straighten-out my thoughts, no matter how muddied my head was before diving in.
The loss, albeit temporary, feels like a break-up and I’m currently in that desperate I’ll-do-anything phase which involves racking up unsustainable credit card bills for trains and Lime bikes to the (few) remaining pools in south London (does Brockwell Lido fancy opening a Balham outpost?).
I can’t be the only one craving the happiness fix that comes from diving into a crystal blue lane this summer. The benefits of swimming for mental health are endless, yet Britain’s pools have been closing in the last 12 months as the cost of heating, treating and maintaining them go through the (increasingly leaky) roof. The country has reportedly lost 400 pools since 2010 and Swim England is predicting a further 40 per cent reduction in pools available by 2030. No wonder a report this week found that the UK’s happiness levels have failed to return to their pre-pandemic norm as prices surge.
The cost-of-living crisis is certainly at the heart of our public pool problem. With energy prices continuing to soar, pools are not only being forced to turn the heating down but pass these rising prices onto consumers, shutting out those who arguably need it most.
It’s reassuring to see Jeremy Hunt’s £63m lifeline to England’s pools, and proposals like that for a heated pool above Liverpool Street station, but is enough focus put on making them affordable? Or will it become another posers’ playground for London’s elite, like the Sky Pool in Nine Elms?
Blue spaces are as vital for communities as GPs, with swimming estimated to save the NHS and social care services £357m a year. If we want to boost our happiness levels, we should save as many as possible and make them accessible to all.