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Open up the ponds on Hampstead Heath, demand protesters

Split opinions on closure

19 May, 2020 — By Dan Carrier

The protest at the ponds

SWIMMERS yearning for a refreshing dip in the Hampstead Heath ponds organised a demonstration on Monday calling for them to be re-opened.

The protest, however, revealed split views among users as to whether swimming should be allowed during the coronavirus lockdown. The official Men’s, Ladies and Mixed Ponds associations all said they did not support the rally against the closures. The ponds closed at the start of the outbreak in mid-March and, while lifeguards are still on duty, the gates remain locked.

Protest organiser Nick Silver told the New Journal the ponds could be safely opened – adding the Royal Parks had opened the Serpentine in Hyde Park for open air swimming this week.

He said: “I am frustrated that the associations have done nothing to lobby publicly to reopen the ponds. “The infection rate in London is statistically insignificant. The reasons for not re-opening the ponds are not rational.”

He added the continued ban while relaxing limits on other forms of exercise did not make sense.

Nick Silver wants the ponds to re-open

He said: “Today, the Heath is open. You can run on the track, you can climb trees. The risk of anything happening while swimming is also statistically insignificant. Anybody can have a heart attack, anywhere. The idea that it isn’t safe is incorrect.”

He added that by keeping the gates locked, it could make other health issues worse. “Swimming outside is a heathy activity both mentally and physically – and for people who have been locked indoors, needed more than ever.”

Year round swimmer Joel Solon said he believed the risk could be managed.

He said: “At this time of year, there are about six people at any one time and the men’s changing area could hold 30 people while socially distancing.” But others said the continuing closure should only be lifted when stringent safety systems were in place.

Men’s Pond Association committee member Geoff Goss said: “They have a duty of care towards the lifeguards. If they needed to save someone, it would mean having close contact.” But he added goodwill was in short supply after the Heath’s managers, the City of London, decided to bring in new swimming charges.

Geoff Goss says he understands the decision

Nicky Mayhew, chairwoman of the Kenwood Ladies Pond Association, said: “We all would love to be back in the water, but we can’t see that it would be possible without endangering the health and safety of Heath staff and swimmers. We understand that the Serpentine is opening up only to members of the Serpentine Swimming Club who are, in normal times, entitled to swim in the early morning without lifeguards.”

A City of London spokesperson said: “We have a duty of care to ensure that our lifeguards,” adding: The situation will be kept under review and we will reopen as soon as it is safe to do so.”

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