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Heath ponds swimmers are fed up with being demonised

03 April, 2020

‘Historically swimming was free, but most accept that times have changed’ 

• I AM reluctant to respond to either Richard Turpin or John Stratton’s letters (March 19 and 26) on the subject of Hampstead Heath swimming at this time of crisis when all of us need to be focused on protecting the health of our family, friends and the community at large.

However, I think it’s important to clarify some points. Swimmers on the Heath are well aware of the costs of running the swimming ponds and of the reasons for increasing lifeguard coverage.

The user groups are supportive of the City in its efforts to ensure the safety of all swimmers and we are also very concerned about the possibility of people swimming in non-lifeguarded ponds on the Heath.

I note that Mr Stratton mentions “ignorant determined swimmers” being prepared to break down or climb over fences.

But I’m not sure who he refers to, as far as I know, if anyone is discovered doing this they are subject to legal action and a severe penalty.

Since January all the Heath swimming associations have co-operated in a consultation process with the City of London to explore ways of reducing the gap between the City’s expenditure on swimming and the revenue raised from pond users.

At the outset we were assured that the City remained committed to subsidising swimming on the Heath, although our repeated requests for them to indicate the amount of income they sought to generate received the response that they had no figure in mind.

It was therefore disappointing to discover, after the formal consultation meetings were over, that the City did, indeed, have a financial target in mind and proposed to double the charges for swimming in order to achieve it on the basis of figures that it acknowledges are unreliable.

As part of the consultation we had surveyed our members and established that a substantial majority (75 per cent) were willing to pay at current rates and many already do so; while 70 per cent said that increased charges would affect their ability to swim.

What also emerged clearly was the City’s abject failure to communicate the charges and that most people found it extraordinarily difficult to pay.

Historically swimming was free, but most accept that times have changed.

Our members are ordinary, decent, people who happen to enjoy recreational swimming for their mental and physical wellbeing.

For most, a quick dip in the swimming ponds is not a sport but an extension of their access to the Heath as a whole, which does, of course, cost the City of London a great deal of money to maintain for the benefit of all.

We are grateful to the City for their care for the Heath, but we are also fed up with being demonised as “greedy, entitled, selfish and dishonest”, when the truth is that we have offered a consensual approach to changing the payment culture at the ponds without destroying their unique ambience or excluding people who can’t afford to swim.

This was supported by the Hampstead Heath Consultative Committee – which comprises people who know and understand the Heath – but then overturned by the management committee, whose members largely lack that expertise.

Chair, Kenwood Ladies’ Pond Association


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