Swimmers return to Hampstead Heath ponds and Parliament Hill Lido - but ‘abysmal’ booking website ‘riddled with problems’

Swimmers were delighted to be back at the ponds on Saturday - but others were "shut out" by the book

Swimmers were delighted to be back at the ponds on Saturday - but others were "shut out" by the booking website. Picture: PA - Credit: PA

Swimmers made their long-awaited return to the Hampstead Heath bathing ponds on Saturday - but its “abysmal” booking website’s struggles left many “excluded”.

Swimmers enter the Hampstead Heath mixed bathing pond as it reopens to the public following the easi

Swimmers enter the Hampstead Heath mixed bathing pond as it reopens to the public following the easing of coronavirus lockdown restrictions across England. Picture: PA - Credit: PA

The City of London Corporation (CoLC) staged a trial run over the weekend with advance bookings for hour-long morning sessions.

It was the first time the new compulsory charges – which have faced huge opposition from swimming associations – were in place.

There were a number of problems with the booking website, Active Training World, which struggled to manage the rush of demand for the bathing ponds and Parliament Hill Lido.

Dr Eleanor Kennedy, chair of Parliament Hill Lido User Group, praised the returning swimmers and lifeguards but said they were let down by the online-only booking system.

Picture: PA

Picture: PA - Credit: PA

She told the Ham&High: “The thing that didn’t work was that the CoLC, despite having four months to develop a booking system, failed to do so.

“It was absolutley riddled with problems which have caused enormous grief and sadness to people, and enormous exclusion.”

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Dr Kennedy said there were “a lot of glitches” with the website which repeatedly crashed and which “wasn’t set up for concession bookings”.

There were also “confusing” confirmation emails which left swimmers unsure if they had actually booked a spot, and Dr Kennedy worried that older people and those without access to the internet were being shut out.

Picture: PA

Picture: PA - Credit: PA

She praised swimmers’ respect for social distancing - inside and outside the lido - and the one-way system which “all went very well”.

READ MORE: Hampstead Heath bathing ponds and Parliament Hill Lido will reopen on July 11

Moving forward, the lido chair said key workers should be prioritised for bookings and that the upcoming trial of family sessions was welcomed.

Mary Powell, Kenwood Ladies’ Pond Association’s vice-chair, said: “I’m very happy for the people who got to swim.

“They clearly enjoyed getting back into the ponds. That’s great and the hard work of the lifeguards is appreciated.

“However, the systems for booking places to swim are shambolic and continue to exclude very many of the regular swimmers, both financially and technologically, from ever being able to book a session swimming.

“This is a great concern.”

Chris Piesold, chairman of Highgate Men’s Pond Association, said: “There’s a strong sense from the [swimming] associations that the CoLC have had since early March to set something up and test it, but they’re still nowhere near.

“People are feeling excluded and it’s a great shame because a lot of this could have been avoided.”

Anne Fairweather, CoLC’s Hampstead Heath management committee chair, said it was “great to see” so many people swimming again.

Ms Fairweather said: “We are now updating our booking system to increase the number of swimming sessions available and to allow swimmers to book up to three sessions per week.

“Family swimming sessions at the Parliament Hill Fields Lido are also being introduced.

“We will resume the online booking service as soon as possible this week to enable swimming sessions to be booked for Saturday 18 July onwards.”

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