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London Fields Lido: Squatters Delight

In the summertime when the weather is fine, it’s fair to say you just want to be somewhere half-naked, surrounded by people in a similar clothed state with the opportunity to dip if and when you choose.  Which is why, when the sun peeps its cheeky little face out from the curtain of clouds, the wise amongst us flock to the lidos of London.  And whilst the lidos in Brockwell Park, Hampstead Heath and Tooting are all very well and good, there’s a particular lido that has an extraordinary history and a special place in the hearts of the locals.The longest surviving lido of its kind, the London Fields Lido deserves the kind of admiration and respect that you show your elderly grandparents.  After its’ birth in 1932, the lido lived through World War II, celebrated with the Festival of Britain and saw the arrival and departure of the mullet.  What were they thinking?
But it has also suffered like no other lido before.  After closing in 1939, reopening in 1951 London Fields Lido had a good 37 year innings before it was closed again.  Er, hello???  This lido survived the war!  And in the same way as avoiding the flu that caused your boyfriend to sniffle only to get food poisoning from your delicious jerk chicken, the lido ended up being shut anyway in 1988 due to a lack of staff and  lack of income that provoked the government to suggest tearing the place down and putting the area back to grass.But like true pioneers, the people of Hackney stood their ground in order to fight for the right to party.  And swim in the Lido.  But protesting and presenting alternative options to the council wasn’t enough to halt the bulldozer from crawling up on its unstoppable wheels, like a mad, giant slug with a hammer.  But luckily the small group of Hackney citizens who stood between the lido and monster machine was.  After that, it was on!  For 18 years the people of Hackney battled in true community spirit arranging proposals, meetings, petitions, clean-up projects and media events to stop the lido from being destroyed so that one day, it could be reopened.But whilst the lido remained closed, it was far from abandoned and unused.

The lido had been closed for ten years before the squatters moved in.  Providing a living and creative space for anonymous travellers, political activists, down and outs and a whole range of creative folk, the lido became very much occupied.  In all senses of the word.  The changing rooms became sleeping chambers, the old cafe was a kitchen, the front area became a boot sale site, the cages used for storing shoes became storage cages for vegetables; for the first time in years the place was alive!

But the lido squatters were so much more then the Daily Mail tax-avoiding malingerers, breaking and entering an empty space to use it for their sordid affairs, that so many assume.  Rather, the lido was used to its full potential.  Holding the world’s smallest nightclub, The Miniscule of Sound in one of it’s changing rooms, the squatters not only held raves for the community but also built creative spaces within.  One squatter built himself a rehearsal and recording studio, nailing mattresses to the walls and ceiling in order to soundproof and another built a big, heart-shaped potato patch.

And politically, the squat was home to animal rights activists, peace protestors as well as providing a meeting place for action groups, such as Rhythms of Resistance; a pink-block drum band that plays at demonstrations and direct actions throughout the world, focussing on carnivals and costumes to get their point across instead of more confrontational means.

But as much as the lido became a creative and active squatting community, it wasn’t all samba drums and feathers; it was hard too.  The winters were freezing and most of the women left, leaving only the most hard-core males.  There was no hot water so the squatters took “firebaths”; lighting a fire beneath a bath found in a skip, filled with a hose and sitting on a block of wood to protect the delicate regions from a scalding.  Food was taken from skips, people got sick from the cold and damp and you had to find and chop your own firewood.  It was hard but the squatters built up and maintained an unlikely spot, making the lido home.

And together with the squatters occupying London Fields Lido and the Hackney citizens fighting for it to be saved, the council had no choice but to re-open it or face a mutiny!  But it wasn’t all a fairytale.  It took 18 years of fighting (both inside and outside the lido) for the council to reconsider their decision, but golly, was it worth it!  So next time the sun is out and you turn into a melting Fab, check out the London Fields Lido and take a swim in their Olympic sized swimming pool, remembering the history and those who fought to keep it open.

They’re probably sitting there next to you in their swimmers.

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About iamlikeawednesday

With a stick of rock and deckchair in tow, I arrived from the sea-side three years ago. Being half mermaid, I’ve been dipping my tail into all things London. Including the Thames (not recommended). I like all things free, as the best things in life are, and will only leave a party or club at gunpoint. Come say hello! I’m the one dancing with the weirdo in stonewash denim, shouting “one more!” as the lights come up…

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