This is a tale of stupidity beyond belief. It’s 25 years to the week since Grange Lido in the Cumbrian coastal town of Grange-over-Sands was shut.
I first reported on the campaign to save the lido back in 2011 while at The Guardian. A lot has changed since then. Ten thousand people have signed a petition demanding that the rare Art Deco lido, which is mushroom-shaped and resembles a ship from the side (in the style of the era), is saved. It’s the last surviving seaside lido in the North of England and was Grade II listed by English Heritage in 2011, which should prevent its demolition. Campaigners claim that this year’s warm summer, which has led to a surge in wild swimming, should lead to a rethink.
The local authority – South Lakeland District Council – says that refurbishment will be too expensive. It wants to cover it up and fill it in with concrete. Yep, you read that right. Fill it in with concrete. Meanwhile, these concrete filling-in claims are denied by the local MP and former Liberal Democrat leader, Tim Farron, who says, instead, a temporary decking type structure would be placed over the lido.
Whatever the reality (will concrete be used or won’t it), what is not in doubt is this: the lido was built in 1932 at the height of the Art Deco era, it’s an architectural gem, and it was opened by Lord Derby with 60,000 people using its facilities during the inaugural year.
Some 36 years after launch, it was described as a “swimmer’s paradise” for its crystal-clear filtered water. But it suffered severe damage in 1979 when a storm forced seawater over the retaining sea wall, flooding the area and damaging the male changing rooms. Repairs were carried out and the lido remained in use.
It celebrated its 50th anniversary in 1982 with a celebration gala but was shut permanently just 11 years later. In 2011, the Westmorland Gazette website asked “Should Grange lido be reopened as an outdoor swimming pool?” The survey’s result was 79 per cent yes and just 21 per cent no.
South Lakeland District Council, which owns the site, concluded in 2015 that it was “not feasible” to reopen the lido for swimming and began looking at alternative uses. There’s talk of a £2 million renovation which would see business units in the former changing rooms and associated buildings. What a waste.
But campaigners insist that with the current al fresco swimming boom, the pool could be commercially viable within three years. Around 74 per cent of local residents who were questioned on the matter want to be able to swim there again, they say.
Campaigners have put together ambitious plans which would include a café and restaurant, open all-year round with a spa to fund the costs of the pool. They point out that Grange is famed for its sunny micro-climate and reject any claims about the rubbish northern weather.
A feasibility study in 2014 from the local authority described the structure as “the last of the great British Art Deco lidos in the north, the others having been long filled in and disappeared”.
It would appear to be madness for Grange to suffer such a fate in the face of such overwhelming public opposition.
South Lakeland district council says on its website: “Both visitors and residents continue to comment on the derelict state of the former lido, and we remain committed to ensuring a sustainable way forward for the future of the site, for the benefit of the community of Grange-over-Sands…Since consultation, we have had a number of interested parties and exciting proposals come forward with expressions of interest in the site.” The council did not respond to requests from Northern Soul to comment.
Farron believes it to be a “great idea”. But he asks who’s going to pay for it. The council advises that the capital costs of the restoration could run into £8-10 million, he says.
An indoor pool, which opened in the town 2003 after locals helped raise £3.3 million towards the cost, closed within three years due to design flaws.
A number of lidos across the UK have been brought back to life – Saltdean lido, near Brighton reopened after locals raised millions of pounds, and the Jubilee Lido in Penzance was reopened and is a great success. Surely a crowdfunding campaign could save Grange Lido?