Londoners plan to create first new wild swimming ponds in 250 years |  Swimming

Londoners plan to create first new wild swimming ponds in 250 years | Swimming

An industrial storage site covered in concrete is no paradise for wild swimming. But a community group hopes to transform the east London plot, currently used by Thames Water, into what are believed to be the capital’s first new wild swimming ponds since Hampstead Ponds were created in 1777.

Under proposed plans, residents want to buy the 14-acre government-owned site on the polluted Lea River in Waltham Forest and turn it into a “wasteland” with two free-use swimming pools, community spaces, an anaerobic digester , a cafeteria and a manufacturing and repair center.

The two ponds at East London Waterworks Park, measuring around 1,600 square meters and 1,400 square metres, would be fed by rainwater cleaned by reedbeds and aquatic plants, and the site would be powered by hydroelectric and solar power, and would have a capacity of 1,000 people per day. . “There is a real desire to swim in open water to reconnect with nature, and right now there is not enough capacity to respond to that desire,” said project president Abigail Woodman, who works in educational publishing.

The idea came from community members after government plans to build two free schools on the site, which they bought from Thames Water, failed. Following a public meeting three years ago, fast swimming became a popular idea. “For the community, it’s about embodying hope, because it can seem pretty bleak what’s going on right now.” Woodman said.

“It’s about saying we can make things better, we have the ability and the power to do it if we come together and work hard.”

Amid record temperatures and drought, this summer the demand for wild swimming continued to rise following growing interest during the pandemic. But with pollution warnings and limited capacity at a small number of dedicated locations, particularly in cities, plus entrance fees, options are limited.

The East London Waterworks Park vision for the Thames Water site.
The East London Waterworks Park vision for the Thames Water site. Photography: ELWP

William Upton, chairman of the City of London Corporation’s Hampstead Heath management committee, said “a record number of swimmers” have been using the Mixed Bathing Pond, the Highgate Men’s Bathing Pond and the Kenwood Women’s Bath, each of which regularly attracts more than 1,500 swimmers. one day. The ponds were originally created in the 17th and 18th centuries as reservoirs before some were later converted into bathing pools.

Other wild swimming sites have since opened, West Reservoir in Hackney and Beckenham Place Park lake in Lewisham, but the new project believes its ponds will be the first created in centuries.

So far, residents have raised over £210,000 in crowdfunding in just a few weeks. The target is £500,000 by October 28 if the project is to progress to the next stage. Provided purchase is made and planning permission is granted, the ponds are expected to open to volunteers in 2027 and to the public two years later.

With a child poverty rate of over 42% in Waltham Forest, making the facility free to use is a vital aspect of the project.

“We will divorce ourselves from our ability to generate income and make sure that we can maintain the use of the site so that it is open and inclusive for all,” Woodman said. “So a world run by people and nature.”

In addition to bringing positive associations with physical and mental health, the ponds would also draw attention to water use at a time of scarce supplies by displaying real-time data on how they use water.

“When you live in a city, it’s very easy to divorce yourself from what’s going on with our water supply,” Woodman said. “The water companies say that we have little water. but it keeps coming out of the faucet.”

Ed Accura, co-founder of the Black Swimming Association (BSA) and producer of the Blacks can’t swim documentaries, said the project would be a positive addition to the area, but that for many people, swimming doesn’t feel “relatable.” Research by Sport England found that 95% of black adults and 80% of black children in England, and 93% of Asian adults and 78% of Asian children, do not swim.

Members of the East London Waterworks Park group.
Members of the East London Waterworks Park group. Photography: Jonathan Perugia

Calling for water safety education to be a top priority, he said that so far more than 100 people have taken part in the BSA pilot water familiarization and orientation program in Hackney, and there are plans to roll it out across the country. .

Accura, 56, who grew up in Tottenham, said a few years ago he would have been “totally indifferent” to the creation of new wild swimming ponds. When she first got into a pool she was afraid. “Since then, I’ve been learning to swim, getting more used to getting in the water. I feel relieved.”

Woodman said the project plans to work with youth to create a water safety campaign for their peers. The scheme has the support of Shirley Rodrigues, London’s Deputy Mayor for Environment and Energy, who said it was an “excellent example of community-led action”.

He said that the mayor, Sadiq Khan, is committed to bringing nature closer to Londoners and rebuilding the city by protecting, restoring and enhancing its green and blue spaces… It is essential that proposals such as this improve the local area and that, by creating new parks and open spaces, we are helping to build a London better for everyone”.

The Education Department, which is seen as responsible for the sale of the site, and Waltham Forest Council said they could not comment on the proposed plans at this stage.

Thames Water, which met with East London Waterworks Park in July, said it is “ready to support all stakeholder groups who want to develop wild swimming areas”.

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