We're giving London's Lidos some love this summer. Following Jason Cobb's personal look at Brockwell Lido we asked another Brockwell regular, Chris Roberts, to tell us about his recent expedition to Charlton.
Love Your Lido: Ravaged Kentish Beauty - Charlton Lido
Sitting in the revamped Brockwell Lido Cafe on a moody day in August, there are spots of sun but spits of rain along with heavy clouds. A dozen people are on the poolside terrace and more than that inside, and there are three lifeguards, ten people in the pool and about twenty lounging at the poolside. Recently on a similar day I went out from here, my 'home' lido, to where the roads get wider and 1920s developments share Shooters Hill Road with clusters of small tower blocks (still flying England bunting) to Horn Fair Park.
Not far from a pet cemetery and home of a pagan festival the jolly name is about all that is upbeat about a place which feels terribly unloved. The paddling pool is waterless, lads are playing football on the bowling green, the buildings around which are boarded up. At first sight it looks like the lido is as well, the metal gate is mostly shut, rolls of barbed wire decorate the roof and the perimeter wall is topped with the razor equivalent. Charlton hasn't the bosky charm of Tooting or the fierce community feel of Brockwell, this is more like something from another era or another city, New York in the 1970s or Liverpool in the 1980s. Fort Apache - The Lido.
There are no bike parking spots but one of the two staff on duty suggests chaining it up inside besides what would once have been the (closed off and unsafe) women's entrance. The modern till he sits beside looks almost incongruous in the, largely empty, reception area from which the only way through to the pool is via what were the male, but are now unisex, changing rooms.
Charlton Lido was the last of the four London County Council outdoor pools to be completed (in 1939) and was taken over from the LCC by Greenwich Council in 1971. It is currently run by the leisure services company GLL who are given a small grant by that council to open the pool this year pending the sort of capital investment the Millennium Council appears uninterested in providing. There is talk of foreign investment and the creation of a diving centre which will enable the site to function all year round. Currently, however, it is the voluntary efforts of a handful of, mostly elderly, enthusiasts from the Charlton Lido Swimming Club and the couple of staff from GLL that keep it functioning. If anyone turns up one of the latter slips from the reception area and is ready to receive them (after the customer makes the longer journey through the dim corridor of changing booths) at the waterside.
The first view on exiting the changing rooms is of a fence at the shallow end behind which is the shut cafe and, empty, children's pool, both inaccessible this year on health and safety grounds. The pool itself is gorgeous and though the same length as Brockwell, at fifty yards, gets deeper quicker, there is no evidence of chlorine and the soft water is a delight. I also had it entirely to myself.
From the pool it's possible to survey the surroundings better, the painted over signs and forlorn looking signage. But for the efforts of the volunteers it would apparently be much worse and the tragedy is that it is so easy to see what a beauty this pool was and how, with a great deal of love and a decent amount of investment, it could be again. The changing rooms are in better shape than Brockwell's were pre makeover and similar sorts of initiatives tried in SE24 involving the cafe, schools' groups and other uses should be an option for Charlton.
If ever there was a place to test Mr Cameron's big society idea then surely the refurbishment of this ravaged Kentish beauty and its establishment at the heart of a community that, to an outsider, looks like it really needs something to help it along. In the meantime Charlton Lido is open for another couple of weeks (you might want to phone first) and offers a cheap (£3.20) fantastic swim - very often you'll have the pool to yourself - and friendly staff. Though you best bring your own coffee and sandwiches and some love and affection, paint too if you can spare it. Back to the Valley? Back to the deep end would be a start.
By Chris Roberts
Charlton Lido, Shooters Hill Road, London SE18 4LX
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Last Updated 20 August 2010