‘We’re dedicated to opening the lido again’

From left, Keith Everett, Roy Phillips, Des Callow, Gareth Lancaster, Paul Skipper, Helen Downing-Emms, Sabrina Richards, Sylvia Everson and Maggie Ballard ''Picture: Malcolm Wells (131031-9498)
From left, Keith Everett, Roy Phillips, Des Callow, Gareth Lancaster, Paul Skipper, Helen Downing-Emms, Sabrina Richards, Sylvia Everson and Maggie Ballard ''Picture: Malcolm Wells (131031-9498)

Chess tournament returns to Portsmouth

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It was back in July 1935 that the Hilsea Lido was first opened to the public.

It became a hugely popular facility for the people of Portsmouth.

Olympic swimmers used the pool to train ahead of the Games in Berlin that year.

And national diving championships were also held there.

Members of the public would walk down on a hot sunny day and spend the afternoon in the water with their families.

Teenagers would make new friends.

But the arrival of the Second World War had an impact on the future of the lido, and it was never quite the same after that.

Now, a charity has been set up in a bid to restore the lido to its former glory.

Helen Downing-Emms, lead volunteer and vice-chairwoman of the Hilsea Lido Pool for the People Trust, has been supporting the campaign alongside chairwoman Sabrina Richards.

She says there is a great history to Hilsea Lido.

‘It was really the place to see and be seen.

‘After the war, it was open to the public but it had started to run down a little bit.

‘By the 60s and 70s, package holidays came in and less people used it so it became a bit of a slog.

‘The council didn’t pay for it. Things got removed like the diving boards.

‘All we were left with was a large pool of water.

‘For years, the council has been trying to close it down saying people don’t want it.

‘But people had been discouraged from going because it had become an unpleasant place to go.

‘Some people started researching it and saying there was still a call for it. People did want it.’

In November 2007, a group was set up to try and save the Hilsea Lido and prevent it from closing.

So a meeting was set up with the council – yet they still planned to close it in the summer of 2008.

After that the group decided to set up a trust in a bid to keep the lido open for families to enjoy.

And in September 2010, the group took over.

‘We took it over with the understanding of a 99-year lease, but the council wouldn’t provide any funding for it.

‘It was very run down. It had been closed for two years.

‘It was just completely full of rubbish and leaves and fallen trees.

‘We had no maintenance history.

‘We had everything checked over.

‘We have asked local businesses to help us.

‘Some have given us funding, others have given us expertise and some have given us equipment.’

Last summer, the charity was awarded £50,000 from Sport England as part of the London Olympic heritage programme.

The money will be used to recommission the pool.

It has seen volunteers working throughout the winter months through the cold, wet and frosty conditions to try and get the pool ready for use.

And last weekend they helped to host a swimathon as part of a national event to raise money for Marie Curie Cancer Care.

‘We worked throughout the winter cleaning it out,’ adds Helen.

‘We had to check everything over.

‘Everything has been absolutely fine.

‘We patched it up, painted it and filled it with clean water.

‘We have had to do that a couple of times.

‘Just by the skin of our teeth we managed to hold the swimathon.

‘The next stage is to try and get it open for public swimming.’

But there has been a lot of work to get to this stage where they are close to reopening.

‘When we took it over it looked like it was ready for demolition, adds Helen.

‘We have got to prove that it’s viable in terms of need.

‘Bearing in mind that it’s been closed for almost three years and we have never made any promises about being able to re-open.

‘Yet we’ve got almost 3,000 followers on Facebook.

‘We get regular phone calls and emails asking when we are going to open – particularly at this time of year.

‘The one thing that everyone said was that they wanted the diving boards back and that they wanted it open and they wanted to use it.

‘Almost everybody that we speak to are very keen for us to be open.

‘It’s so much more than a swimming pool.’

And Helen says she is very confident about the future of the Hilsea Lido.

‘We are largely positive,’ she adds.

‘It’s a project that’s been created out of blood, sweat and tears.

‘We are a very small group of people.

‘We are very lucky that our community and trustees have been part of it since the beginning.

‘We are working on it every day and have been for 10 years. It’s immensely positive.’

Helen says over the years many people have spoken of their memories of the Lido and their enthusiasm to see it return to use.

Different generations speak positively about the Lido and how popular it was.

‘The whole lido movement was built around fun and friendship and socialisation, and that will never change,’ she says.

‘Each generation that has visited the lido has fantastic stories to tell us.

‘We have spoken to people of every age who come along with fantastic memories.

‘We’ve spoken to people in their 70s and 80s.

‘People are absolutely thrilled to see that it’s still there.

‘Tears are in their eyes when they leave and they have a skip in their step at the thought it is still there.

‘For people of a certain age it’s the place to go to meet members of the opposite sex.

‘We have got lots of grandparents who are looking forward to bringing their grandchildren.

‘A lot of them will be people who used it themselves and want to introduce their grandchildren to it.’

Support needed

THE Hilsea Lido Pool for the People Trust is looking for local businesses to support it.

It is looking for businesses to sponsor lifeguards or to make donations to the Trust.

The Trust has also been working with local schools including City Boys in Portsmouth.

They have also been working with the Respect programme, which is associated with Pompey.

Volunteer Helen Downing-Emms adds: ‘Every aspect of a business is part of the Hilsea Lido.

‘We need to have a decent website, we need to provide lifeguards.

‘So we would appreciate support from the local community.

‘It’s so much more than a swimming pool.

‘It’s designed to be fundamentally, but it hasn’t been in recent years. It’s a massive space.’

To find out more information please visit hilsea-lido.org.uk or send an email to info@hilsea-lido.org.uk.