The woman taking on the City of London Corporation over swimming charges
- Credit: KLPA
A disabled Kenwood Ladies' Pond swimmer is gearing up to face the City of London Corporation (CoLC) in the High Court next week.
A judicial review to determine whether the charging regime to swim at the Hampstead Heath bathing ponds discriminates against disabled people is scheduled for Wednesday and Thursday (February 23-24).
The review has been brought by disabled swimmer Christina Efthimiou, who lives in Kentish Town.
The 59-year-old, who turns 60 today (February 17), claims the City of London’s compulsory charging system at the bathing ponds, introduced in 2020, disproportionately affects people with disabilities.
The CoLC denies that the decision to bring in charging for swimming at the ponds is discriminatory or unlawful.
Christina's case, originally set for November last year, is supported by the Kenwood Ladies’ Pond Association (KLPA) and blind swimmer Ann Griffen.
"It's a difficult time to go through something like this," said Christina who is "a bit nervous and a bit excited".
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"Surely it would have been better if they'd dealt with it out of court and not let it get to this stage but I know I've got support so that helps.
"Being part of it all is quite scary. It's the City of London with little old me. It's quite a big deal.
"Women have been swimming there for free for decades and for them to suddenly to put a charge on and increase it unnecessarily. It just stinks.
"It's not like they needed to bring money in from elsewhere. They are a huge corporate company. It just seems so unfair."
Compulsory charges were introduced in 2020. Last year, non-concessionary swimming rates were increased in line with inflation at 1.3%.
However the cost of a six-month pass for those eligible for a concession was increased by 21.5% and a 12-month concession pass by 15.1%.
Concessionary charges are currently £40.11 for six months and £75.97 for a year. Swimmers cannot pay weekly.
Christina said the free swimming open to over 60s and under 16s from 7am and 9.30am, while good, fails to take in the needs of disabled people, particularly if they do not sleep well at night.
"One of the things I have asked them was why didn't they allow people to pay a monthly membership, and also freeze their membership if they were going into hospital for surgery or they weren't going to be around for a couple of months and they said 'no'," she said.
"I live in social housing, on state benefit and it's been fantastic for my health. For it to be taken away is quite scary."
Mary Powell, KLPA secretary said: "It is courageous of Christina to put her name to this and possibly quite daunting for her.
"It has been about a year of hard work leading up to this hearing and a longer period of campaigning going back to January 2020.
"The KLPA collectively has put in a lot of effort and support. Our members have contributed to surveys, come forward as additional witnesses and contributed to crowd funding.
"We have also had support from the other Heath pond swimmers’ associations. It’s exciting and a bit daunting to have got this far.
"The cause is important to us all. It’s about access, affordability and fairness.
"The ponds are not a leisure facility or a health spa. They have been home to a community and that is now seriously at risk."
A CoLC spokesperson said: “Hampstead Heath is a registered charity, and its swimming facilities are accessible to people of all abilities and backgrounds."
The charity offers a "huge range of support" for disabled swimmers including free entry for carers, they added.
“We offer a 40% swimming discount to disabled people, and a season ticket brings the cost down to as little as £1.46 per week.”
They said the charity was attracting "a record number of swimmers" and had subsidised swimming at the ponds "by nearly £600,000 in 2020/2021".
It offers "a comprehensive support scheme, including free morning swims for under 16s and over 60s, with concessions for disabled people and those in receipt of state benefits".
The spokesperson said: “Swimming charges are reinvested to ensure that affordable, safe, and sustainable access to outdoor swimming is available to as many people as possible for generations to come."
To donate to the crowdfunder visit www.crowdjustice.com/case/fighting-discriminatory-charges-to-swim/