Ilkley Lido: Community group launch bid to take over running of Yorkshire outdoor pool after its future is put under threat

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A community group with ambitions of buying or running Ilkley Lido themselves have relaunched their campaign to take on the outdoor pool after Bradford Council admitted that the future of its sports centres is uncertain.

Ilkley Lido & Pool Community Ownership last attempted to secure a transfer of the site to them in 2011, but have this week relaunched their bid after the council published proposals to review leisure centre provision in order to balance its budget.

The authority faces considerable financial pressures, with documents available online stating that around half of its expenditure now goes towards children’s social care requirements. Although no specific closures of sports facilities have been announced, all are under review and council officers have proposed introducing charges for the Lido’s car park.

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Representatives from the pool’s Friends group and local sports clubs including Ilkley Harriers and Ilkley Swimming Club will hold a public meeting on February 2 to present more information about their vision for how the site could be managed.

Ilkley LidoIlkley Lido
Ilkley Lido

Ilkley Lido was built in the 1930s in Art Deco style, with an indoor pool building added later. The grounds have a cafe, tennis courts and putting green. It is Grade II-listed.

The group has claimed that the open air pool suffers viability issues because of restricted opening hours – it closes during winter – a lack of staffing and support for special events.

A statement published on their website read: “We understand that Bradford Council needs to make significant savings if it is to set a legal budget (avoid bankruptcy in lay terms). Bradford Council provided a series of budget options at the council meeting on the January 11, which in relation to the pool and Lido are limited to instigating car parking fees.

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"We also understand that a review of non-statutory services is currently being undertaken in addition to the budget proposals provided at the meeting on the 11 January, with a consultation on the findings to take place in the spring. Bradford Council’s leisure services, including the Ilkley Pool and Lido are now under further review and staff have been notified.

The summer solstice swim at Ilkley Lido attracts hundreds of swimmers every JuneThe summer solstice swim at Ilkley Lido attracts hundreds of swimmers every June
The summer solstice swim at Ilkley Lido attracts hundreds of swimmers every June

"The future of the pool and Lido are under threat. A group of committed Ilkley residents are developing proposals to secure the long-term future of the site and facilities through community ownership of the pool, Lido and grounds.

"We believe the pool and Lido are key to the health, and prosperity of the town’s residents and businesses. Tourism is vital to Ilkley being a thriving town and the Lido is a national draw. As an asset the Lido future is completely intertwined with the future of the town. The swimming pool is vital for our wellbeing, for public safety and for accessibility.

"The pool and Lido have been registered an Asset of Community Value, and listed in the neighbourhood plan which would make a sale difficult.

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"The aim is to have a viable proposition to present to Bradford Council as a response to its review. The proposal is of course dependent on a full understanding of the financial feasibility, and of the potential capital and revenue funding sources.

Dog Day is an event that the Friends have worked with the council to hold - though the council were criticised for allowing dogs to swim for free when children under 16 are charged entry to the poolDog Day is an event that the Friends have worked with the council to hold - though the council were criticised for allowing dogs to swim for free when children under 16 are charged entry to the pool
Dog Day is an event that the Friends have worked with the council to hold - though the council were criticised for allowing dogs to swim for free when children under 16 are charged entry to the pool

"This proposal is a proactive move by the community of Ilkley to develop a sustainable future for the pool and Lido. The proposal would have three possible stages with a real vision for a thriving community asset:-

"Short term running of the pool and Lido in a way that generates a sustainable community asset, making the most of what is there now – this may need a transitionary model to ensure viability.

"Short to medium term establishing partnerships and collaborating to secure a vision for a thriving centre for sport and the community at the pool and Lido.

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"Long term securing a better future for the pool as a modern facility and the Lido as a heritage site within a sports hub area for Ilkley that creates the most potential from all our sports within the town.”

The group’s ideas include opening the cafe to the general public, adding a sauna for hot/cold experiences and running regular events such as a winter swimming club.

The statement continued:

“Ilkley as a community has had two previous attempts at community ownership of part/the whole of the pool and Lido complex, the most recent one was in 2011. The Ilkley community has for many years been offering solutions to Bradford Council for generating more usage of the pool and Lido and a more sustainable income. These have not come to fruition.

“Across the UK communities are stepping in to successfully run their Lidos with longer opening seasons, and more diverse activity with the facilities operating as community facilities. Our proposition is for the whole facility, the pool and Lido.

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"There are various community ownership models that may be appropriate and which need exploring including Community Benefit Societies and Community Interest Companies. Whatever model is most suitable we do need a better collaboration between the community with all the assets we bring, and the owners of the pool and Lido.

“The Friends have initiated a number of very popular events at the Lido which have been sustained (Solstice swim, early morning yoga, Dog Day); events that have not been sustained because the council were not able to provide ongoing support (Live at the Lido, winter swimming club, Friends evening swims); and events that have been progressed by council (full moon swims, Halloween swim).

"The Lido we think has always been financially viable. In the short term the Lido can be better used as a facility for the whole community, and for people visiting the town by implementing some low cost options that have been tried and tested in other Lidos as a result of the increase in interest in outdoor swimming.

"(These include) opening up its cafe for people who are not swimming (walkers or people visiting the town), with a separate entrance to the Lido; being a hub for community arts groups who do not have a natural home (rehearsal space, choirs) and a place for performance (the Lido has previously hosted theatre, poetry, music events but this has been ad hoc); providing a winter season, including a hot cold option with an on-site sauna.”

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“Indoor swimming pools are known to be a service that run at a loss. Ilkley Pool was awarded £171,644 by Sport England in November 2023 to help offset the costs of heating the indoor pool in the context of high energy prices and to create more sustainable heating options, along with many other indoor pools. Sport England requires indoor pools to be heated to 30 degrees (Germany was 28 and has just lowered to 24 in the current energy context). We don’t as yet know how the money was spent in Ilkley or the potential for future funding.

"The pool is a competition length pool. It can increase its income despite the quality of the facilities by copying other swimming pools that are generating more income by being more imaginative about mixing swimming lessons alongside public lane swimming, and longer opening hours. Swimming clubs and lessons bring in substantial income to pools and at Ilkley the clubs/lessons all have waiting lists.

"Critical to this proposition is establishing partnerships both across Ilkley (swimming club, cycling club, Harriers, rugby and cricket clubs, football Club, Town Council, Ilkley Live and the arts community, Ilkley Schools etc) and with key regional and national stakeholders including Sports England. We are pleased to have the support of the Brownlee brothers.

"The Town Council will be discussing this in the coming weeks and the Mayor has been supportive of the direction proposed by the community team who are at the heart of this proposition.

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"These partners together with the community members will co-produce the vision for the longer term for Ilkley Pool and Lido, and investigate and secure the funding model.

"At this stage we are at the starting blocks and so we do not have all the options in front of us. We do understand there are interdependencies between the pool and Lido and other leisure services in Bradford (eg sharing of staff, equipment etc). We are therefore at this stage assuming the following as likely options:-

"1. Bradford Council continues to own and run the pool and Lido at its full potential. We would want much more active participation of the community in securing the facilities as part of a thriving sports community. This would require BMDC to work in partnership with the community in Ilkley in developing the pool and Lido as a thriving sustainable model into the future. We do not want the pool and Lido to continue to be subject to a series of cost savings that in effect deplete its potential and put it at risk again in the future.

"2. Bradford Council develops a formal partnership model with the community within a wider vision for a sports hub. The community, through an appropriate legal structure, owns the Pool, lido and grounds. The operational management of the site and facilities could be subcontracted to BMDC or other providers.

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"There will of course be more options once we have explored the models that exist in other pools and Lidos.

"We are exploring a full understanding of the costs, risks and management challenges with providing the pool and Lido now and in the future. We expect this information to be published as part of the Bradford Council review of the pool and Lido and are seeking early sight of this.

"We are looking into the risks and opportunities of the range of options for ownership and oversight, by connecting with other pools and Lidos in the UK, and the willingness of people to be involved, both individually in the community and as partner organisations; and the potential funding streams and collaborations to make the future viable for the pool and Lido whatever the ownership model.

The public meeting will take place on February 2 at 6pm at Ilkley Rugby Club.