Otley Lido: Campaign to re-open outdoor pool for the first time since 1993 includes retractable roof, gym and restaurant with river terrace
In 1993, Otley Lido fell silent when a fault with the outdoor pool's pumping system proved terminal and sounded the death knell for a beloved facility that had served the town since 1924.
The site of the old 30-metre pool on Farnley Lane has, other than for a short period when it operated as a children's fun park, remained derelict and abandoned ever since, with Leeds City Council still holding ownership of the land.
Ironically, it took a deluge for a campaign to re-open the Lido to begin when in 2015, the Boxing Day floods destroyed a wall at the site and the Friends of Otley Lido - many of them householders who had been flooded themselves - formed. They managed to halt a potential sale of the pool, but efforts to raise funds for preliminary surveys into the renovation work required to bring it back to life have so far fallen short.
Now, a Crowdfunder has been launched with a 'now or never' tag attached and a £53,000 target. As Friends chair Leonie Sharp points out, the Lido plans are feasible, supported by the council - who have offered a lease with free rent for 125 years - and need only kickstarter investment for studies into ecology, traffic and flood risk before they become eligible for grant funding.
The new Lido would be more than just a swimming pool, the revenue from which alone would be insufficient to run it on a not-for-profit basis. Instead, the vision includes a high-end gym and a restaurant with terrace overlooking the River Wharfe. There will also be a ground floor cafe area, a new green for the bowling club and public toilets for visitors to Wharfemeadows Park.
"I live three doors down from the Lido, and it's always been a neglected eyesore in the 20 years since I moved here. In 1993, a lot of outdoor pools were closing, fixing the pump fault was prohibitive and councils were switching their resources to newer indoor pools. It was left derelict after the Rainbow Park lease ended - but it was never bulldozed and the outline of the pool is still visible. You can really get a feel for what it must once have been like," said Leonie.
Other Friends who swam there as children remember long queues to buy season tickets when they first went on sale and a facility that was always busy.
"It was incredibly popular. People remember it being bitterly cold, but it had a cafe and basic changing rooms. When we put up a hoarding to replace the wall after the floods, we included memories from people who had loved it, even couples who met there and have been married for 50 years.
"Momentum with the Crowdfunding has slowed since 2016, so this is the last push to get the money for the next phase; after that, we can apply for grants. Our architects and the council have told us it's feasible, and it's a deadline we've set ourselves really - we are under no pressure from the council. We just need to get it through to the planning stage.
"A pool alone would not be able to survive, which is why we want the gym and the restaurant to be the big revenue generators. With the revival of interest in outdoor swimming and the resurgence in lido restorations, we think if not now then when? It is the perfect time."
The plans include a carbon-neutral venue with sustainable heat sources - under consideration are a hydroelectric scheme utilising the river, solar panels, geothermal energy and even using gym equipment to generate electricity. The reinstated pool would still be 30 metres and fully heated, with a retractable roof and changing rooms on the ground floor which can be easily cleaned in case of future flood events.
The Friends are acutely aware of the needs of different user groups, and plan to use the Lido to address long waiting lists for children's swimming lessons in the area. The pool would be used by schools, elderly people, triathlon clubs, divers, adult lane swimmers and those with disabilities at designated sessions.
"We are only a few miles from Ilkley Lido, but we think having two pools will generate more interest. They will have different offerings and will complement each other.
"We already have a third of our target figure in the bank, and there are other pledges that will kick in when we reach certain thresholds. Otley Town Council have promised £5,000 and a local GP has pledged the same amount.
"We are up to £4,500 now from the new appeal, which has a six-week deadline - it's just getting this middle part of the funding together. We are also talking to local businesses who are donating prizes in return for pledges.
"It really is now or never."
To donate to the Crowdfunding appeal, click here.