27th April 2017

You might imagine that a lido road trip to a pool that did not involve any actually swimming would be a disappointment on a par with discovering that Friday night has rolled around, and there isn’t any tonic in the house. And usually, you’d be right. But the Historic Pools event at Lido Ponty is the exception that proves the rule.

There was an opportunity for swimming, but I was under some time pressure so had to leave before the end of day swim. I wasn’t in the least disappointed because the rest of the day had been nothing short of inspirational.

The coming together of those who love and run pools is always something I find uplifting and, in a way, comforting. It’s good to know that there are other people out there like me, in a world that can feel increasingly fragmented and isolationist the power of like minded people with like minded goals isn’t to be sniffed at. And pools are a unifying thing; they don’t polarise people, they bring them together.

The agenda featured speakers with various interests in, and connections to, pools. Historic Pools doesn’t discriminate based on whether pools have a roof or not but unsurprisingly, given the location, there was a strong lido flavour to the day.

Particular highlights, for me, were the presentations given by Daryl Leeworthy, Owen Smith MP and some of the team seeking to restore Brynaman Lido. There were two common threads that united these presentations; buckets of humour and an evidently powerful commitment that seems to be borne of genuine emotional connection to pools.

I learned a great deal from Daryl Leeworthy about the social role of pools, particularly in the South Wales Valleys, and about the challenges and benefits that heritage brings to restoring a facility like Lido Ponty. The tale about having to relocate the guttering and turn the window catches around almost made me weep… and not in a good way. Daryl is a warm, funny and completely engaging speaker and if you ever get the chance to hear him you should seize it with both hands.

Owen’s memories of the pool during his childhood, what it meant to him and his friends and the role it played in shaping them as young people were not only laugh out loud funny at times, they were also rather moving. This is what lidos mean to people, but through my contact with Historic Pools I am beginning to understand that the grand old indoor pools and bath houses also provoke just such a visceral sense of belonging.

The presentation from Brynaman was poignant for many reasons, not least amongst them being the pictures of their empty pool tank, paint peeling and surrounding cubicles in disrepair. This is exactly where Lido Ponty was before its restoration. We had seen the pictures of the pool as it was when it lay dormant, on the way into the meeting room, and from the meeting room itself we had a crows nest view of the entire facility in all her current glory. This is what I want for Brynaman. It is a travesty that Wales has just one lido and Scotland has only three, whereas London alone has several. I hope that if Owen is re-elected, and establishes his cross party working group on swimming, this is a situation that is scrutinised closely and moves are made to rectify it. And if Owen isn’t re-elected then politics in this country really is broken, we need principled, human, hard working, swimming MPs like that.

There were other highlights of the day too, from the Welsh cakes, to the fascinating talk from Sandford Parks about the changes they’ve made to treating their water, to finally meeting Joe from Jubilee Park who has been part of my lido twitter landscape for a long time. Historic Pools are doing great things bringing all this together and advocating for our swimming heritage. Please support them any way you can.

Taking all that into the round I wasn’t at all sad to be going home with my togs still dry.

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