With the recent adjustments to the lockdown status we wanted to update subscribers on the current situation in relation to swimming as it applies to the Heath.
We would all love to be back enjoying the water right now and we are regularly in contact with the Hampstead Heath management team trying to work out what plans can be put in place to start to re-open the swimming facilities in some way.
Mixed Pond Association Committee
26 February 2020
This meeting for members of the pond users’ associations, was called at short notice when swimmers’ representatives feared that the City was not listening to their views over the future management of the ponds. Fears were confirmed when on February 24th the City unveiled their intentions at the Sports Forum.
We now know that despite a supposed consultation with swimmers reps which began in January 2020 and involved many hours of meetings the City is proposing, against the advice of all the associations, to double day charges (to £4 per adult) and to enforce them strictly, probably by staffing the entrances to the pond enclosures.
The full set of proposals and options considered can be found summarised in this article.
The background to this is quite complicated and for those who do not know it there is a short summary at the end of this report.
Attendance at the meeting was counted as 103, (36 from the HMPA, 55 from the KLPA, 14 from the MPA 6 from the Lifebuoys and one from the USA)
Proceedings were moderated by Marc Hutchinson, Chair of the Heath and Hampstead Society. Speakers were Chris Piesold from the HMPA and Nicola Mayhew from the KLPA. Margaret Dickinson from the MPA responded to questions relating to the Mixed Pond.
Chris provided some background about the financial situation. This year the City expects the new pond staffing bill will be £300,000 plus above previous costs. There has been increased expenditure for summer problems over the last two years but the picture of ever rising costs the City presents is not quite accurate. Over the last ten years inflation adjusted net expenditure has been cut 36% for the Heath as a whole and 9% for the ponds. The % of expenditure recovered from income has doubled in the last 10 years indicative of the City's apparent intention to commodify the Heath to the maximum extent. City’s cash, the fund from which the expenses are paid, had net assets of £2.7 billion in 2019.
Nicola reported on the background, the present consultation and the position taken by the KLPAS and other associations.
There was a lively discussion during which many speakers stressed the unique character of the ponds and criticised the notion that they can be compared to open air lido or water sports venues. Most contributions supported the stand taken by the associations in opposing increased charges and heavy handed enforcement; about three speakers cast doubt on this position.
THE FOLLOWING MOTIONS WERE PUT TO THE VOTE AND AGREED BY A LARGE MAJORITY OF THOSE ATTENDING
Brief background to charging at the Hampstead Heath Ponds.
Until 2005 swimming was free and the running costs of the ponds were provided by the Heath management which before 1987 was the GLC. Following the abolition of the GLC, the City of London took over management in 1989. In 2005 the City was looking to reduce its costs and shocked Heath and pond users by proposals to close the Mixed Pond and reduce hours at the remaining ponds. After a major public campaign a compromise was reached whereby swimming was not radically curtailed and the present charges for swimming were introduced but were not rigorously enforced. This scheme in practice did not bring in as much revenue as the City hoped. The City assert that this is because few swimmers are willing to pay but the swimmers’ associations maintain that the City failed to introduce efficient methods to pay. For many years the associations have been telling the City that there is a lack of clear information about how to pay, that the payment machines are often out of order and that it is not easy to get a season ticket. Only this year has it been possible to pay for a season ticket online and even now you do not receive a ticket or even receipt unless you go to the lido.
The present push by the City to reduce costs follows a report by the Health and Safety Executive which recommended that the City increase the staffing of the ponds which will clearly put up costs. The City started a consultation with the swimming associations in January this year about measures they wish to introduce in May. The process for doing this will be to put a proposal to the Heath Consultative Committee on March 9th which will in turn make a recommendation to the Heath Management Committee on March 11th. The public may attend but not speak at these meetings.
During the consultation with the swimmers’ reps the City outlined a series of options about the scale of charges and method of enforcement. The swimmers’ rep.s strongly recommended that for the coming season the City adopt the option of minimal change while putting right the problems with information and payment. In those circumstances they offered to cooperate with these improvements and encourage a culture whereby people play unless they cannot afford to or have strong objections on principle. Instead the Superintendent of Hampstead Heath intend to put to the management Committee the option involving the doubling day charges combined with strict enforcement. The season ticket, however, will be held at the current price this season and more concessions are suggested.
The MPA AGM was held on 24th October 2019 and thanks go to member Rodney for providing the perfect pondside location for the 15 or so attendees present. Full meeting minutes can be reviewed by clicking the button below.
Apart from a general review of the year's activities our formal association Constitution was agreed and signed off and can be downloaded and reviewed on via the link below.
One topic that came up doing something to commemorate the writer, intellectual and Mixed Pond regular, Al Alvarez, who died on September 23rd aged 90. He was an important figure in literary London as you can see from the many obituaries of him such as this one from The Guardian.
Our discussion turned out to be especially appropriate because at the end of our meeting two of Al's granddaughters arrived where we were meeting because they happened to have been invited to dinner. They were thrilled to hear about the plans for him to be commemorated at the pond and we hope to have more news in time for next season (which starts early May).
Membership renewal notices will be sent to mailing list members in April/May next year.
Until then, keep warm!
End Of Season Tea Party
It’s the time again when an occasional sniff of autumn is a reminder that the summer is more than half gone by.
The mixed pond swimming season will end this year on Sunday September 22nd and there will be an END OF SEASON TEA PARTY on that day 2.30pm to 4.30pm. Whatever the weather this is always a fun occasion to have a last summer swim, meet other swimmers and enjoy hot tea and cake (free to members or £3 to join on the day).
All pond users and family and friends are welcome whether members or not but as usual there will be the opportunity to join. Bring a few coins if you mean to renew or join. Bring a bit more cash if you want to buy one of the books on sale, Wild Swimming Walks and Wild Swimming in Spain.
Contributions of food always happily consumed.
MPA Annual General Meeting 2019
We will soon be arranging the Mixed Pond Association AGM which is usually held soon after the end of the season. So, look out for an email giving date and place and do try to come. The Committee needs input from members and the AGM is a good occasion to discuss any concerns about the Pond or the Association.
The 2019 Season So Far
We’ve enjoyed a varied summer this year starting with plenty of sunshine and followed by more classic English weather shifting unpredictably between cloud, sun and rain. The hot days – and they included one of the hottest on record - brought the usual crowds to test the patience and skills of our wonderful lifeguards.
The Heath staff also had to deal with numbers of people trying to bathe in the other (non swimming) ponds, a foolish risk not only because these are not life guarded but because they are not checked for hazards or contamination. There was at least one accident when a woman injured her face by plunging into the boating pond. Please don't be tempted to try this as it also puts pressure on keeping the three existing ponds open for swimming at all.
Overall, the popularity of open air cold water swimming has been surging which is great news but shows the need for more places to swim in London as the Heath ponds and Lido can’t keep up with an ever rising demand. The Women’s Pond and the Lido have recently been so busy even at 7am on a dull morning that some regulars have switched to the Mixed where the busy times are usually later.
Despite a fair number of new regulars our early mornings continue to be quiet enough for a slow swim round, savouring the impressive display of purple loosestrife on the banks and watching the heron silently fishing. Sadly, the kingfishers have not returned. Let us hope….
Our membership continues to increase, partly no doubt due to the increase in swimmers but probably more because, thanks to Charles, it is now possible to join on-line at: https://www.mixedpondassociation.org.uk/membership.html The increase in numbers was also helped by a very successful Start of Season Tea Party in May.
Winter Swimming in the Mixed Pond
A protracted legal case was required to persuade the City to agree to the club and there is always a danger that the license might be withdrawn if the conditions are not respected. The club has been running fairly smoothly for over ten years with a gradual rise in membership but last winter there was a sharp increase in people joining which was unfortunately accompanied by an increase in problems.
On many occasions the gates were left unlocked both when people were in the water and after they had left and it was evident that some members were giving out the secret lock code to other people. These issues are serious not only because major breaches in the agreement with the City could lead to the license being refused in future but also because they are a very real safety issue for members if gates are left open.
As a result the HHWSC discussed at its AGM proposals to limit membership. The meeting decided not to do so this winter but to try to address the problems in other ways and reconsider the question next year. So, we would like to urge any of you who are winter Mixed Pond swimmers to be careful about signing in and locking the gates and to challenge anyone you may see breaking these rules or inviting in non-members. Locking the gates is, of course, essential but signing is also useful and not just a bureaucratic rule because it helps members to see when they can be reasonably sure of company, it provides evidence for the numbers using the club and it provides a record in case of any event that needs investigation.
There are many places around London where it is possible to swim in natural waters and combining such swims with a good walk makes for a great day out. The book Wild Swimming Walks provides some examples and for anyone seeking companions it’s worth knowing there is a Facebook group Swim Walks where you can see walks and also short swimming holidays that you can join. Most are arranged by Philip Nice who set up the group but other people can and sometimes do use the group to arrange walks.
Philip’s walks are very varied and those of us who have been on them can thoroughly recommend them. You do not need to go with anyone as everyone is very welcoming to newcomers.
Thank-you so much to this lovely group of game ladies who turned up to the annual Summer BBQ at the Mixed Pond and swam a full synchronised swimming routine for the 100 or so guests. The Bond Themed swim wend down a storm (on a nice evening)!
We hope you will return again sometime.