Just as in the height of summer, a queue was stretching way out of the door of London Fields Lido. But this was early January evening, in the biting cold – and people had not come to swim, but to attend the annual ‘Lido Love’ event, a celebration of the pool’s history and culture.
The lido is now so popular and well known within and outside of Hackney that it seems an integral part of the borough – and almost unimaginable that it very nearly became a car park. But in the dark days of the pool’s 18 year closure, the possibility of it re-opening sometimes seemed equally remote.
‘Lido Love’ was both a reminder of how finely balanced the pool’s future once was, and a celebration of the unquenchable spirit of bohemian Hackney that helped to preserve it. Showcasing the gift that is its architectural space, the lido had been transformed into a kind of aquatic gallery. The changing rooms were used for poetry readings and film screenings, with more poetry and quotations posted up in the cubicles. London Fields Radio broadcasts from another room.
Visitors had the opportunity to see old footage of London Fields, to view other films and poetry, and to read about how the disused lido was taken over by squatters – when it hosted a vegan cafe, raves, discussions, poetry recitals and acoustic music.
It was a powerful reminder of the strong attachment that many local people have towards the lido, its value as a community hub, and the inspiration it gives to users.
Adriana Marques, who organised the event with Gilly Fox, said: “‘I started swimming here about three years ago and loved it – it was my favourite place in London. When I started to look into the history of it, I felt like I had struck a goldmine.”
Music was provided by Bon Bon Kaotikai, a band who had reformed specially for the event. Geoff Morgan, who plays accordion, was heavily involved in the campaign to save the lido, and believes the squatters played an essential role.
“It needed that little bit of extra zest or it would have been knocked down,’ he says. But the area has seen many changes since then: “It was nowhere near as vibrant as it is now. There was just a potato stall at Broadway Market.”
Of the event, he said: “It just shows how much support there is for these resources. If you can bring out this amount of people in a time of austerity it shows that you can’t close it down, ever. It’s a real focus for the community.”
For the finale of the evening, three boats were pulled the length of the pool, representing the three ‘spirits of the lido’ and containing mini paper boats made by those attending. In the end the ‘hardy councillor’ beat the ‘relentless campaigner’ and the ‘infamous squatter’.
But as the evening showed, anyone who has had the opportunity to visit and use the pool has been a winner – as has the area itself. In an increasingly dispersed, atomised and virtual world, we still need real places where we can feel connected to a wider community. Steaming and turquoise at the centre, the lido reminded everyone attending of why it is valued so much. It seemed by far the warmest place in the whole building, but the temptation to dive in was resisted by all.
Marques described the turnout as ‘phenomenal’, with hundreds of people turned away at the door. Plans for next year’s event are already being made – when heaters will definitely be sought.