Opinion: We have called for the City to make it easier for swimmers to pay

Nicky Mayhew, co-chairwoman, Kenwood Ladies’ Pond Association.

Nicky Mayhew, co-chairwoman, Kenwood Ladies Pond Association. - Credit: Supplied

Connecting with nature by swimming in the ponds is vital for our mental and physical wellbeing, but few of us would want our pleasure in swimming to be taken at the expense of other Heath users. In the course of consultation with the City, we have been dismayed at the suggestion that the ponds are “unsustainable” and that swimmers are dishonest in failing to use so-called “honesty boxes”.

The City decided to introduce charges at the swimming ponds in 2005. Until then swimming on the Heath - like roaming - had been free for all. Some people still argue that swimming on the Heath should be as free as at the seaside, while others are more than willing to contribute to the cost of running the ponds. Relying on a self-policed 'honesty' system respects both points of view and allows the ponds to remain accessible and affordable to all, in line with the City's admirable and inclusive 'Heath Vision'.

The City says over a fifth of the Heath's budget is spent on running swimming facilities, but as 19 per cent of visits to the Heath relate to swimming this doesn't seem disproportionate. Add in the fact that swimmers have been telling the City for years that they need to make it easier for people to pay and a different picture emerges.

Signage at the gates of the Ladies' Pond says nothing about charges. A visitor may - or may not - spot two elderly green parking ticket dispensers (no change given) that sometimes work but often don't, and she may be fortunate enough to have the correct change to pay the £2 fee (£1 concession). No contactless payment is offered, but she may - or may not - see a discreet metal post inviting 'Contributions'. If she looks hard, she might notice a small sign listing charges and stating that season tickets are available from the Lido Ticket Kiosk, but it won't explain that they can also be purchased online (a recent, under-publicised innovation). Our visitor might be forgiven for being confused.

We know that lifeguarding costs are set to rise following Health & Safety Executive advice, but we challenge Karina Dostalova's suggestion that more lifeguards will make the ponds more inclusive because 'more people would feel safe and confident to swim there'. Our lifeguards do an amazing job and visiting swimmers have every reason to share our confidence in them. However, swimming in cold, dark, opaque water can indeed be dangerous - as Karina says - and the ponds are only suitable for competent and confident swimmers.

Karina reiterates that the City remains committed to providing affordable, subsidised swimming at the ponds. Many swimmers are appalled by the threat of increased charges, mechanical barriers and heavy-handed enforcement of payment, all of which would destroy the ethos of these unique and incalculably precious places, as well as possibly excluding those who simply can't pay. We have asked the City to make it easy for people who wish to pay to do so, and to let us work with them to find ways of reducing the gap between costs and revenue. We hope they are listening, but we fear they may be deaf.