View from the Heath: Increased fees will keep Hampstead’s Ponds sustainable

Anne Fairweather says the Health has provided a lifeline for some people during lockdown.

Anne Fairweather says the Health has provided a lifeline for some people during lockdown. - Credit: Archant

It has been an interesting time to be elected as chair of the Heath’s management committee as we navigate out of lockdown and reopen our leisure facilities safely with Covid-19 restrictions in place.

For the last three years I have been the committee’s deputy chair, working closely with the outgoing Chairman, Karina Dostalova.

Hampstead Heath has always been there for me and I’ve been a regular visitor since I was a child.The Heath is a magical place. I’m proud to now to be in a position to put something back and I look forward to the next few years leading the management committee.

Covid-19 and the subsequent lockdown has presented us with some of the biggest challenges in the history of managing the Health. Like all of London’s green spaces, we experienced an increase in visitors and reduction of staff as many stayed at home to reduce the spread of the virus and save lives.

People have been using the Heath in so many differently ways over the past few months.

At first it was for daily exercise but now it has become a place to socialise, often late into the evening. which does present us with some challenges.

The Heath provided a lifeline for so many during this period and I am extremely proud of the staff and volunteers who worked on the frontline through the crisis to make sure the Heath was safe and an enjoyable place to visit.

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We did sometimes struggle with litter collection and the vast quantities of waste being left by a minority of visitors. Our message remains - please take rubbish away with you and recycle it at home whenever you can. We would rather spend money on the conservation of the Heath and improving facilities than picking up rubbish left behind after a summer picnic. If everyone takes responsibility for their own waste, it will help us enormously.

I am delighted that our swimming facilities are now open again after closure due to Covid-19. For a temporary period, we have an online booking system in place to ensure they don’t get too busy and our staff have worked hard to ensure they are safe to use.

In March, before the lockdown and following an extensive Swimming Review, the management committee agreed an increase in the fee for swimming. It now costs £4 for a swim or £2.40 for a concession and for regular swimmers there is a season ticket which presents very good value. This will be available again with the winter swim season when the challenge of managing numbers and social distancing is less.

The management committee agreed a fee increase alongside freezing season ticket prices, a balance we want to restore. This will ensure the Ponds are financially sustainable into the future and all money collected goes back into running the facilities.

It’s unclear how long we will have Covid-19 restrictions in place but I hope the Heath will continue to be a place of positivity for all, boosting mental and physical heath, where Londoners can enjoy some time out while we navigate these uncertain times.

Anne Fairweather is chair of the City of London Corporation’s Hampstead Heath Management Committee.



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