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Protest over reopening of Hampstead Heath bathing ponds, but swimmers split over safety amid coronavirus pandemic

A group of pond swimmers protest the continued closure of the Heath's bathing ponds. Picture: Polly Hancock

A group of pond swimmers protest the continued closure of the Heath's bathing ponds. Picture: Polly Hancock

Archant

A group of Hampstead Heath swimmers gathered by the Heath Model Boating Pond at 9am on May 18 to protest over the City of London Corporation’s (CoLC) decision to not as yet re-open the bathing ponds.

'Stop drowning in bureaucracy,' said some Hampstead Heath swimmers. Picture: Polly Hancock'Stop drowning in bureaucracy,' said some Hampstead Heath swimmers. Picture: Polly Hancock

But other swimmers from the Heath’s long-established swimming associations were dubious as to the safety of resuming swimming as yet.

The protest saw eager swimmers hold up a banner stating: “Stop drowning in bureaucracy.”

Organiser Nick Silver said: “The ponds provide an exceptional amenity to a diverse group of people from all backgrounds who swim throughout the year to maintain their mental and physical health.”

He talked up the benefits of open water swimming for physical and mental health.

Summarising the Kenwood Ladies’ Pond Association’s (KLPA) position, co-chair Nicky Mayhew said it had not been contacted about Monday’s demo and added: “We all miss swimming and would love to be back in the water, but we can’t see that it would be possible to do this at present without endangering the health and safety of Heath staff, swimmers and other members of the public.”

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The City of London Corporation (CoLC) highlighted the issue of lifeguard safety in explaining why the ponds were not open yet.

They said: “In line with government guidance on Covid-19, the bathing ponds and Lido currently remain closed.

“We have a duty of care to ensure that our lifeguards are not put in a position where they may have to perform resuscitation or first aid at the risk of contracting the virus.”

The CoLC said the ponds would be reopen as soon as was safe.

The same evening saw the first meeting of the CoLC’s Heath Consultative Committee since the CoLC made the decision in March to institute compulsory charging for use of the bathing ponds.

In a report to the committee, the CoLC’s Heath Superintendent Bob Warnock explained extra lifeguards had been hired, rescue equipment purchased, and new signage prepared in order to explain the new payment system.

Contactless payment will be offered, while wristbands for both season ticket holders and one-off swimmers will be used to monitor pond use.

The CoLC had hoped to retain a cash payment option at the ponds, but Mr Warnock’s report suggests this is being reviewed as part of its response to the coronavirus crisis and the social distancing measures which may be necessary.

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