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Hampstead Heath pond swimmers trial social distancing, but warn campaign against charges will continue

PUBLISHED: 12:08 03 July 2020 | UPDATED: 12:23 03 July 2020

Women swimming with social distancing in place on at the Ladies' Pond on Hampstead Heath. Picture: Sarah Saunders

Women swimming with social distancing in place on at the Ladies' Pond on Hampstead Heath. Picture: Sarah Saunders

Sarah Saunders

Swimmers have trialled social distancing measures at the Hampstead Heath bathing ponds – with news on when they will reopen now awaited.

Women arriving to test swimming with social distancing in place on Hampstead Heath. Picture: Sarah SaundersWomen arriving to test swimming with social distancing in place on Hampstead Heath. Picture: Sarah Saunders

But ahead of getting back in the water, swimming groups have reaffirmed they plan to keep campaigning against the imposition of mandatory charging, and the raising of prices, to swim on the Heath.

Members of the Kenwood Ladies’ Pond Association (KLPA) were among those to take to the waters on Wednesday.

The CoLC has indicated the ponds could reopen as soon as July 6, but this appears unlikely given nothing yet has been announced.

READ MORE: Photographer’s book showing Kenwood Ladies’ Pond over two decades on sale for Highgate charity

In March Heath bosses ruled that – despite opposition from the major swimming groups – charges of £4 for adult and £2.40 would be made compulsory.

The CoLC has maintained this is necessary for the continued safe management of the ponds, and comes after more lifeguards and a mechanism to track swimming numbers were recommended as part of a review of safety procedures.

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When the ponds reopen, the CoLC will allow sessions to be booked online for a limited number of swimmers, though as per CoLC documents, under 16s will not be able to swim. The CoLC has said it will help those unable to book sessions online.

Anne Fairweather, chair of the Heath Management Committee, said in June that the “safety of our lifeguards and swimmers is paramount” and that the CoLC would “work closely” with swimming groups to manage the reopening.

READ MORE: Hampstead Heath bathing ponds and Parliament Hill Lido could reopen on July 4

Nicky Mayhew, outgoing chair of the KLPA, and her successor Ruth Hallgarten both called for a reassessment of the charging.

Nicky said: “During our consultation earlier this year the CoLC made it very clear that the level of subsidy for the swimming ponds had to be reduced and that costs were rising.

“We argued strongly that, with goodwill and effort on both sides, we could close the gap by increasing revenue and donations from swimmers and the thousands of people who love the ponds.”

She said pursuing donations rather than the new charges would preserve the ponds’ “unique culture”.

Ruth asked the CoLC to meet with swimming groups again, and said she was concerned the authority didn’t understand the impact of its new charging regime.

KLPA member Fiona Ellis, one of the twenty to take part in the trial, said: “It was wonderful to be back in the water after so long, but I worry that a lot of regular swimmers will be excluded by the difficulty of booking online and the huge demand there’s likely to be for a limited number of swims.”


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