Tooting Bec Lido reopens after £4m revamp with hundreds of free tickets every day this summer

Five-time Paralympic gold medallist Ellie Simmonds at the official reopening of Tooting Bec Lido to the public on May 29
-Credit: (Image: Charlotte Lillywhite)

London's oldest lido has officially reopened to the public after a 'sparkling' £4million makeover, with 250 free tickets to be given every day to residents who might otherwise not be able to afford to go. Five-time Paralympic gold medallist Ellie Simmonds attended the reopening of Tooting Bec Lido held by Wandsworth Council today (Wednesday, May 29), while Mayor of London Sadiq Khan unveiled a plaque to celebrate the iconic local landmark.

The event saw the Labour-run council extend its 'access for all' scheme, which provides free gym and swimming sessions to eligible residents across the borough, to include the 91-metre-long lido. This means 250 free tickets to the facility will be available to residents on means-tested benefits every day of the summer as part of the council's commitment to help people struggling with the cost-of-living crisis.

The move was welcomed by Ms Simmonds, 29, who was given an OBE in 2013 for services to Paralympic sport and has continued to be an ambassador for swimming since retiring from the pool. She told the Local Democracy Reporting Service (LDRS) the council offering free access to the lido for residents who might not otherwise be able to afford to go, on top of the 'beautiful' revamp it has completed, is 'absolutely amazing'.

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Sue Rentoul, 64, at the official reopening of Tooting Bec Lido on May 29
Sue Rentoul, 64, said the lido is 'sparkling' after the £4m makeover -Credit:Charlotte Lillywhite

Ms Simmonds said: "We’re definitely in a society at the moment where we’re in an economic crisis and to have that extra support from the council and... access [to] this incredible facility just makes such a big difference."

She added: "Swimming isn’t just a great sport it’s also a life skill as well, for all ages... you can see behind us some children here having fun and I think that’s what you want swimming to be - having fun, it’s exercise [and] it’s a wonderful facility... you can have all ages, people can relax here."

The council originally launched the 'access for all' scheme in summer last year, in partnership with contractor Places Leisure, to offer free gym and swimming sessions at several venues across the borough to low-income families at off-peak hours and weekends - including residents claiming Universal Credit, children receiving free school meals and asylum seekers. It extended access to the scheme in January to people claiming a much wider range of benefits, such as Jobseeker's Allowance, Housing Benefit, Disability Living Allowance and Carer's Allowance.

The latest extension of the scheme means 250 residents will be able to access free swimming sessions at the lido every day of the summer. The lido is the biggest open-air freshwater pool in the UK and has attracted generations of Londoners since opening in 1906.

Tooting Bec Lido
The beloved lido originally opened in 1906 -Credit:Charlotte Lillywhite

Council leader Simon Hogg told the LDRS the council is investing in expanding access to its facilities as 'no one should be excluded from those opportunities just because of their circumstances'. He said many families who visited the lido for free today at its official reopening, which more than 1,000 residents booked to attend, had never been before.

Councillor Hogg added the scheme is part of the authority 'being a more open, outward-looking council, having a bit more fun and using culture, sport and leisure as a way of bringing people together'.

The lido originally shut in November 2022 and was set to remain closed for around nine months for the revamp. But the council later revealed it would reopen later than planned due to 'unavoidable delays' caused by issues encountered during the repairs - including the 'discovery of unknown buried asbestos following demolition' works.

The lido reopened to members of South London Swimming Club (SLSC) on December 18 in line with normal practice, as it usually only opens to the club during winter and is typically available to the public from April to September. The facility then opened to the public on April 1, ahead of its official reopening today.

Mayor of London Sadiq Khan was joined by Wandsworth Council leader Simon Hogg and deputy leader Kemi Akinola as he unveiled a plaque at the official reopening of Tooting Bec Lido
Mayor of London Sadiq Khan was joined by Wandsworth Council leader Simon Hogg and deputy leader Kemi Akinola as he unveiled a plaque at the official reopening of Tooting Bec Lido -Credit:Wandsworth Council

The revamp aims to protect the future of the lido by allowing it to function efficiently for the next 50 years. The existing systems at the lido, the council previously said, had reached the end of their life and a budget of £3.93m was agreed in November 2022 to fund the major works.

The pumphouse, which controls the pool's water supply, has been replaced, and a new electrical substation to power the pumps has been built. A new pipework and UV filtration system and pool liner has also been installed at the lido, while landscaping around the water's edge has been improved.

Residents expressed delight at the reopening of the beloved lido while speaking to the LDRS today, and praised the council's extended 'access for all' scheme. Local Sue Pearson said the old pipes at the lido were 'completely worn out' and described its revamp as 'so exciting'. She said: "I'm local and I will be looking forward to coming here again. I do know so many people have missed being able to come here."

Sue Rentoul, 64, who has been a member of SLSC since 2006, described the revamp as 'beautiful' and said it is 'wonderful' that more people will be able to access it under the council's extended offer. She said: "It’s just been brilliant and the water quality is so amazing because, before the new pump was in and they'd done all the pipework all the way around, it used to take over a day to filter everything through... now it takes 3.6 hours, so it’s sparkling."

Ms Rentoul added: "It’s just so lovely and clean and the staff are amazing, the lifeguards are incredible and they’ve got a dedicated cleaner... everything is so sparkling, just lovely."

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