9th September 2016

Fate is a fickle mistress; holding, as she does, luck in one hand and fortune in the other. Since its opening in 1938 she has dispensed very little of either to Saltdean. This pool is spectacular in vision, architecture and setting but her prime was restricted to two brief seasons before the outbreak of war. In 1940, her render still crisp and bright, she closed and was not to reopen until the 1960s. She had slumbered so deeply before that it seems she was hard to rouse, and a succession of lease holders failed to shake her with the vigour required. She seemed destined to slip away in her torpor, destined for redevelopment featuring the eponymous seaside apartments that now litter the British coastline, and some in Saltdean thought that might not be such a bad thing. But more thought it was a very, very bad thing indeed and made quite a fuss about it.

So was born the Saltdean Lido CIC, and the persistent energy they have put into this tired old lady is finally waking the sleeping beauty of the south coast. Funding has been secured to replace the pool tank and plant, and to renovate the 1930s building and the 1960s extension that was glued on while she slept, like some sort of fraternity prank.

With work to the tank and plant well under way Saltdean threw open its doors to visitors as part of the national festival of poking around in usually unseen places that is Heritage Doors Open Day. I managed to secure one of the free tickets, by the skin of my teeth, and I’m not sure what prospect was more exciting — poking around behind closed doors or talking to those involved with the re-awakening.

I wasn’t disappointed on either front. Being my father’s daughter I arrived over an hour early, and such was the sight of Saltdean as I dropped down the hill towards her that I exclaimed ‘you beauty’ out loud. I walked around the perimeter, pleased to see that a small business, library and community centre still make some use of the building, and duly presented myself at the door to register. The other guests on my tour were local to the pool, and hearing their memories of it in its last life was a wonderful way to start the day. Although the tales of partially functioning plant and smelly water did help to shed some light on why the last lease holder didn’t make an overhwelming success of his stewardship. I particularly enjoyed hearing from the older lady who said that she remembered coming to dances as a young woman. Deryck, a director of Saltdean Lido CIC, conducted the tour and I was grateful for his encyclopeadic knowledge of the heritage, but it came alive for me when he talked about having swum there as a boy.

I feel very privileged to have seen behind the doors of Saltdean during this period of transition. To stand in what was initially the restaurant, on the spot where once stood a soda fountain, looking at the 1960s addition of a stage and imagining the dances in full swing, to walk through the glazed rotunda, closed to the public since the 1930s, and out onto the terraces overlooking the pool… It didn’t feel hard to imagine myself one of the women in the 1930s photograph on show (courtesy of RIBA), sitting in a deckchair, enjoying the sun with my stockings rolled down to my ankles, my feet still firmly in their court shoes.

At present Saltdean’s social history evolution is written all over this building, and when she is once more wide awake that will be lost, to a degree, in the brilliance of new render and glazing. Her fabric will no longer be this rough and ready road map of the last 80 years, but the heritage plan will at least ensure that what can be re-used will be. That loss is far, far outweighed for me by the promise of an old lady made young once more. She will dance in the sunlight, of that I am certain, and the residents of Saltdean will be able to look down on her and know that they gave her life.

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