The possibility of Lambeth council taking over the running of Brockwell lido was discussed by senior councillors at the Brockwell Lido Users (BLU) annual general meeting on Sunday (19 November).
Speaker after speaker at the packed meeting in the lido, including local MP Helen Hayes, described serious failings at the lido which is run by Fusion Lifestyle on a 25-year lease from the council.
It had 450,000 visits last year up from 300,000 in Covid-hit 2021.
Shortly before the AGM, BLU published a survey of lido users which it described as “highly negative”.
Donatus Anyanwu, council cabinet member for stronger communities, leisure and sport, said contractual obligations were involved and there could be legal processes involved in relation to what the council could do about the lido and when it could be done.
“What we are not doing is to close our eyes,” said Cllr Anyanwu.
He said Simon Harris the council’s recently appointed leisure services manager, had identified areas of improvement.
“We want to hold Fusion responsible for putting those right,” said Cllr Anyanwu. “Every step, I am taking legal advice on what direction we can go or can’t go.
“Our obligation is to make sure the service is delivered adequately. We have experience in the last few years … in bringing services in-house that we think we need to bring in-house when it is possible to bring the in-house without putting additional financial stress on yourselves and the council.”
Lambeth leisure services were brought in-house in April.
Cllr Jim Dickson, a council cabinet member for healthier communities, who uses the lido gym on most days, said later in the meeting that Active Lambeth, which is the council’s vehicle for running the leisure centres in the borough it had taken in house, “could be used going forward”. He pointed out that there are complications around the lease of the lido to Fusion.
BLU chair Ben Longman said what was being discussed at the meeting was not something that had happened in the past year, but part of a trend.
He said he had looked at what then BLU chair Guy Wickett has said at the 2020 AGM.
He had regretted being unable to fix issues of cleanliness, lack of maintenance, interim managers, and decisions made without consulting of the users.
He had to report that, despite a considerable amount of effort from BLU, which was thankful for the interventions of Helen Hayes, local councillors and Simon Harris, “we have, so far, been unable to get Fusion to change,” he said.
Longman said Fusion is experiencing acute financial difficulties.
“Brockwell lido is a popular, but also a profitable site. It’s got a passionate community of users. And what we can see is that, although we love this place, we can see it falling into pieces,” he said to applause.
He said the BLU committee believe the lido is effectively being used to financially support other Fusion sites.
The problem was not one of communication or engagement, but of accountability and timelines and BLU had no timelines from Fusion that it could report to the meeting, said Longman.
“We believe that the way that this lido is being managed doesn’t meet the terms of the lease and it doesn’t meet the terms of the community agreement that Fusion signed up to when it took over the running of this lido,” he said.
There were years left to run on the lease and, he said, “I’m increasingly concerned about the long-term impact on the fabric of this site as a result of neglect.
“I’m also worried about the decline of what has always been a, a vital and accessible community asset.
“So, in conclusion: enough is enough … we are no longer prepared to accept assurances that things will get better without any threat of concrete action to change the management of this lido if things don’t improve.”
BLU treasurer Stephen Trowell, who was chairing the meeting, said that after a failure to provide financial information as required, Fusion had re-engaged with BLU in terms of attending meetings and drawing up a draft service delivery plan, but “the re-engagement has been superficial”.
Fusion had joined BLU officers and Simon Harris in documenting what needed to be done, but had not given any dates for when the issues identified would be addressed.
“We are now in the situation where the gradual decline is leaving this glorious centre in a state of decay. Further promises that things will get better ring hollow,” said Trowell.
“Fusion need to act rather than merely promise. How do we make them do that? We need Lambeth to hold Fusion to account.”
Local MP Helen Hayes (Labour, Dulwich and West Norwood) said: “I think all of us are absolutely on the same page in terms of the scale of the problems that have been made known to us and the urgency of the need to sort out those problems.
“I should say I’m not a hardy all-year-round swimmer, but I do use the lido when the weather’s a bit warmer.”
She highlighted three issues: cleaning “everything is filthy and not fit for purpose”; equipment “you are paying a monthly fee to use the gym. It’s a minimum requirement that the equipment that is available to you is in working order; and “the equity of ticketing and booking arrangements” which had resulted in a “huge decline” in the diversity of people using the lido, particularly local young people.
The MP said that, even when there had been investment, it resulted in a net reduction in what was available to women. After “refurbishment” of the poolside women’s changing room there were now no hairdryers and no sockets to plug your own in.
“The final thing I’ll just say. is that the absolute frustration of making representations to Fusion and getting complete nonsense back. I’m told the showers will been fixed tomorrow and then I went a month later and they hadn’t been fixed.”
Hayes said there needed to be a concrete plan with “very, very hard stops on the delivery of progress.”
Simon Harris said communication from Fusion had been “shocking” and there had been no contract management by the council – which had changed with his appointment in March,
After six months of working with BLU and Fusion, he had produced a report which is now being prepared for publication by the council.
“This time next year, we do not want to be sitting here talking over the same old things,” he warned.
Speakers from the floor provided a list of failures including clear evidence that the lido’s phone had been switched off for long periods.
As well as black worms on the floor of the sauna, a black and brown swimming costume had changed colour after a single session in the hydro pool.
Showers can be either icy cold or dangerously hot – one candidate for the BLU committee brandished the pliers he takes with him to tackle the showers each time he swims at the lido.
Hardy swimmers who use the pool when there is ice on the surrounding surfaces were falling over because the lido had not salt and staff said they were not able to accept an offer from pool users to buy some for use in the lido.
There was also discussion of Fusion Lifestyle’s financial position and the need to repay a £13m loan it used to keep going through lockdowns when, it said, it kept the lido open while running at a loss.
Speakers complained that the classes available in the gym were almost all aimed at young, fit people, while those aimed at older people had been closed. “The yoga, the body balance, the Pilates, the stuff that keeps slightly older people going – they’re just being erased … you’ve got some really good teachers and then they leave,” said one.
Another said that trainers who should be supervising people in the gym were sweeping the floor.
Two of the complaints about Fusion – maintenance and communication – came together in another example of the state of the lido.
“I sent an email in August saying when I opened a door in the ladies’ loo, it fell in my head,” said one speaker. Since then she has received “loads” of promotional emails and two surveys from Fusion – which she replied to mentioning the incident– but not a single reply to her email, nor to her report of the incident to the front desk.