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STRAND POOL, GILLINGHAM, KENT
7th August 2016
‘Please tell me you haven’t come all the way from Bristol just for this’ said one of the newly formed Friends of Strand Pool as we scrubbed and weeded at a volunteer maintenance session that kicked off bright and breezy at 9am on a Sunday morning.
Of course I had. Strand Pool is really one of a kind. A free form, river fed pool with a 25m laned section surrounded by a lazy river, a leisure swimming area with water jets, a self contained toddler pool and pink elephant slides. The lazy river flows like a moat around the outside, and brightly coloured bridges interlink the islands and walkways. This is a pool where you can go on a journey on foot, as well as in the water. It is also the sort of pool that can’t help but unleash your inner child, and even the hardiest of length swimmers would have to be made of austere stuff not to want to ride the lazy river at the end of a long session.
But Strand Pool is also tired. It is a local authority pool and has suffered from under-investment and disinterest. I can only think that Medway council simply don’t understand what an asset this facility could be to the town. Gillingham lies just 50 miles or so from central London. I came there direct from Charlton Lido in Greenwich, and the journey only took me 40 minutes by car. London has a lot of outdoor pools, they are blessed with a wide variety of them. But they haven’t got anything like this and Strand Pool really should be a day trip destination for water loving families across the capital, particularly when you factor in the riverside park that contains it; what day trip is complete without a ride on a miniature steam train and a couple of rounds of crazy golf? Or is that just me?
But Medway don’t market this pool, and at present they aren’t employing the expertise needed to run it properly. There isn’t anybody who properly understands the plant, so the silt from the river water hasn’t been properly filtered and is partially obscuring the brilliant white of the pool tank. That is a shame. I have seen photographs of this pool when it is properly maintained and it sparkles like a snow globe in the sun. Medway also don’t understand that having swimmers in the pool helps to keep the bottom clean, and helps the pool to pay its way, and they don’t seem to understand that when lifeguards are rotated off poolside it is perfectly acceptable, indeed the norm, to ask them to do litter picking and general tidying up.
The pool has, and is, suffering drastic restrictions to its opening hours this season, and that is what prompted the Friends of Strand Pool to form. They have lobbied the council for increased opening hours, with some success but the pool still closes at 5pm which is madness in high summer. When I arrived on Saturday afternoon they wouldn’t let me in as it was too close to 5pm; I got there at about 4.15pm. I knew it closed at 5pm and I was still happy to hand over my money, but they were not happy to take it. The park outside was alive with people, it was a hot, still summer’s evening and it seemed as though all of Gillingham had come down to The Strand. Ideal weather for outdoor pools, but the lack of opening hours and the lack of proper maintenance is putting people off.
Friends of Strand Pool have taken up the baton where maintenance is concerned. They weed, they sweep, they scrub the pool tank doing their best to battle the silt. But they can only get so far by themselves and Medway really needs to realise that the passion and pride these volunteers have in their pool could be its lifeblood. They need to take the baton for the next leg and commit to properly maintaining the water. The silt really is the only problem. I swam there, after our weeding session, and the water itself is soft and clean, only becoming murky if the fine layer of silt is disturbed.
The volunteers have a lot of plans to drain, scrub and repaint the tank over the winter and I am absolutely confident that if Medway meets them in the middle and puts in personnel who know how to run the plant this pool can regain its former glory. And it is glorious. There is acres of space for sunbathing, and I can’t think of a pool that will appeal more to families with younger children. But it should also appeal to serious swimmers. The fresh water and rectangular central tank are a gift if you are training for open water events. It is also a gift if you are a grown-up who likes a ‘proper’ swim but you have children who like to splash and jump and play. You can both be busy doing both at the same time, then retire to the sun loungers for a picnic. Heaven.
Please go and use this pool, and if you can’t get there follow @StrandLido and show them some support. Maybe go and wield a brush, like I did, if you can. They are a lovely bunch of people with some great stories about this pool and its lengthy history.
Thank you, Emma Pusill, for visiting and writing so well about our pool. Emma is currently working on 'The Lido Guide', see link below: