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Objectors say new swim charges are ‘social cleansing’ of Heath ponds

City of London say swimming is affordable

23 July, 2020 — By Dan Carrier

A PROMISED hardship fund to help swimmers who cannot afford the price of a dip in Hampstead Heath’s ponds has yet to be set up – despite it being considered a key plank of the City of London’s new charging strategy, campaigners say.

The Heath managers have introduced compulsory tickets to use the three ponds on the open space, and since reopening two weeks ago after lockdown, anyone wishing to plunge in must book a slot online first.

The decision to end a 200-year-old tradition of being able to turn up and swim for free has been met with anger – and now swimmers claim the City are neglecting those most economically disadvantaged.

Kenwood Ladies Pond chairwoman Mary Powell said: “We are seeing the social cleansing of the swimming ponds, as only those with the financial and digital means to book places and be online at just the right moment are going to get swims, except for a lucky few who have the right contacts to get telephone assistance from Heath staff.”

The City say they already heavily subsidise the swimming facilities, and that the new system is a fair way to ensure those who swim contribute to their management.

They add that due to advice from the Health and Safety Executive, following the death of a swimmer last summer, coupled with increased demand, they need to employ more lifeguards.

And they say they are looking into setting up the proposed hardship fund, which was agreed at the Heath management committee’s March meeting when members voted to bring in charges.

Swimming associations have criticised the City’s new online service, complaining of frequent crashes.

The City say it had to be introduced due to strict rules over social distancing and managing crowds – and they hope it will be temporary. They have also set up a phone number for those who can’t access the website.

Ms Powell added: “The ponds are not currently open to people of all backgrounds, as it is very difficult to book if you cannot be online the moment tickets are released, which will includes a lot of key workers on duty in essential services.  The KLPA has received feedback from older swimmers as well as swimmers with disabilities about how difficult this online system is to use, as well as it being largely unavailable to the Orthodox Jewish community.”

“The cost is also going to be prohibitive for increasing numbers of would-be swimmers as we emerge from lockdown into economic uncertainty.  The daily cost of £4, or even £2.40, is more than a daily food budget for many people.”

Heath management committee chairwoman Anne Fairweather said: “The Heath’s three swimming ponds are accessible to Londoners of all abilities and backgrounds. We are providing cheap, subsidised swimming with fair pricing, with concessions bringing down the cost of adult swimming to as low as £2.40, 365 days a year.”

“These affordable prices – including a freeze in season ticket charges for next year – were agreed by the elected Hampstead Heath Management Committee following a consultation with swimmers and other user groups and an equality impact assessment.”

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