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Veronica Gordon

Do you fancy a swim?

 

Nicola Murdoch, Jubilee Pool

So, I’m just walking around the perimeter of pool on what is another very windy day at Jubilee.

 

Veronica Gordon

Today we’re hanging out by the open-air saltwater Jubilee Pool in Penzance, Cornwall, with its business manager, Nicola Murdoch, the chair of their board, Susan Stuart, and some local residents who love the place.

 

Nicola Murdoch, Jubilee Pool 

We’ve got about 15 people in there at the moment. I can hear them swimming around in the pool, trying to keep warm; keeping everything underwater. The water is far warmer than the ambient temperature today, so they’re all trying to keep submerged as far as possible.

 

Veronica Gordon

Wild swimming has become more and more popular in recent years, with 7.5 million people taking a dip in open water and outdoor pools last year, according to Sport England. And Jubilee Pool offers a unique swimming experience. It’s perched at the tip of the UK, juts out into the Atlantic, and this year opened a heated section of the pool so swimmers can get their well-being fix, come rain or snow.

 

Nicola Murdoch, Jubilee Pool 

The session has just started in the geothermal pool. With just a glorious sunny day, with the sun shining down on our green terrace level, which has got bits of sparkly glass in so it glistens and gleams, it’s quite pretty to look at actually when the sun catches it.

 

Veronica Gordon

This pool has quite the story to tell. It’s narrowly escaped being wiped into the sea, has been saved by supportive locals, and has even embraced some incredible geothermal technology. Welcome to “Then One Day”, the podcast that tells the extraordinary stories of community businesses throughout the UK. I’m Veronica Gordon.

Let’s dip back into the lido and meet some locals, starting with Ann Grice.

 

Anne Grice, Jubilee Pool local

The chap who designed it, he took the idea from a seagull’s wing. It’s a beautiful art deco structure, so white concrete, and it’s an equilateral triangle. It’s 100 metres each side and it sticks straight out into the sea. Brilliant white with higher terraces so people can sit and the upper level from the pool. Then you go down steps to a beautiful triangular pool with those sorts of old-fashioned white concrete changing rooms. Really old school; some of them have got no doors, but nobody seems to mind.

Time and time again, you see adverts, you know, for all sorts of things with the Jubilee Pool in the background. And I’ve even seen videos being made – dancers dancing on the side of the pool. It’s a fabulous setting.

 

Nicola Murdoch, Jubilee Pool

It makes this place sing. It is so embedded in people’s lives. It just means so much; people have got such fond memories, childhood memories, family memories, courting memories. We’ve even had people that, when it comes to their funerals, have come past in their funeral procession and stopped outside the pool and moved on again because it just means so much to people.

 

Veronica Gordon

The lido was opened in 1935 to commemorate King George V’s Silver Jubilee; hence the name the Jubilee Pool.

The local council had wanted to put Penzance on the map by creating a beautiful facility for the local community. Lidos or outdoor pools were very popular in the 1930s in the UK, as swimming became a national obsession. As you can imagine, it’s a pretty special place. But six years ago, nature intervened. Susan remembers what happened.

 

Susan Stuart, Jubilee Pool 

2014, Valentine’s Day of all days, there was a massive storm hit Penzance. It was just phenomenal. If you walked outside, the wind was so strong, you couldn’t properly speak because you open your mouth and you filled up with gale force winds. And the noise was horrendous. So, the waves were just coming straight over the pool. You know there were talk of waves sort of 15-18 metres high. It was ferocious. You could just see the waves coming right over the harbour walls, right over the pool. The storm actually created so much damage because over the years there were big air pockets that had developed under the concrete structure. So, the waves were hitting, and they basically just burst huge pieces of concrete off, and one side of the pool or the changing rooms were almost destroyed, and the plant rooms were flooded.

 

Veronica Gordon

So, for you personally, how did you feel when you saw that damage?

 

Susan Stuart, Jubilee Pool 

I cried. The day after the storm was just one of those amazing clear still winter’s days. And it was just devastation. And in fact, next to the pool, there were railings leading down to some rock pools, and those railings had actually been bent out of shape by the power of the sea. It was just astonishing. The Jubilee Pool suffered probably nearly £1 million worth of damage and it also uncovered some big structural defects. So, in order to repair and renovate the pool, it was going to be about £3 million. So, the then owner, Cornwall Council, had to consider whether they could really afford to keep it open.

 

Veronica Gordon

After the storm clouds had passed, the pool had no choice but to close. Waves had crashed over the top of the lido’s wall. It was totally flooded, and all the electrics were destroyed. At this point, Susan was just a part of the community organisation called the Friends of Jubilee Pool. But after seeing the damage wrecked by the storm, she felt compelled to get more involved.

 

Susan Stuart, Jubilee Pool 

I’d previously been Chief Executive of a charity; I’m also an accountant. So, I knew about business planning and I knew about how you raise money. So, I thought, “I can play a role here”, and just dived in, no pun intended. I and friends of mine, who were in the Friends, realised we just had to get on with it and save the pool.

 

Veronica Gordon

How devastating was it for you all as a group? At what point did you think, okay, we must get together and do something?

 

Susan Stuart, Jubilee Pool 

Well, almost immediately, because it became very apparent that, you know, Cornwall Council, like all local authorities, are short of funds. I think we had £30,000 in the bank, which was quite a lot for us. So, there was nobody there who was obviously going to come to the rescue. So, it was immediate; we knew we had to get together, we had to talk to the council, and we had to find a way forward.

 

Veronica Gordon

So, the Friends got to work.

 

Susan Stuart, Jubilee Pool 

It was right in the middle of when kids were all doing those loom band things. And we had school kids setting up loom band stores and selling stuff. So, it was right from little tiny things like that, to an art auction where we raised nearly £20,000 in one evening by local artists donating their paintings. So, there was an awful lot done. The community itself raised £120,000, which was phenomenal.

 

Veronica Gordon

But they didn’t stop there.

 

Susan Stuart, Jubilee Pool 

We campaigned locally, and a huge amount of support persuaded the council to try and invest some of its own money. But we also got £2 million from coastal communities, and Cornwall Council put the rest of the money in.

 

Veronica Gordon

And so, in May 2016, after the repairs were complete, the pool was ready to open its gleaming white doors once more. Local resident and keen swimmer, Ann Grice, was overjoyed.

 

Anne Grice, Jubilee Pool local

The night before it reopened, we thought we really must go and have a look. And our daughter said, “Let’s go and eat some chips”. So, we just sat on the balcony at the cafe; we had our chips and we just looked at the pool. And of course, everything was pristine. Everything was brand new; they were still doing a little bit of painting. And it just looked so beautiful. Oh, wow. And then, when it was reopened, it was absolutely marvellous, because people, you know all the old timers you see and wasn’t it wonderful to be back. We were all so thrilled to have it back again. So, I really am so grateful to all the people who really worked so hard to bring it back to this amazing facility that it is now.

 

Veronica Gordon

When it reopened then in 2016, how long did it take you to get back into the pool? Was it a day, a week?

 

Anne Grice, Jubilee Pool local

Oh no. Virtually the next day, as soon as it opened. As soon as it opened, we thought there’d be loads and loads of people going the first day. And so, we went but we didn’t actually go in, but we just sat there feeling happy. Really, really happy. It was just marvellous. And you know, keep meeting people and we were all saying the same thing, “Isn’t it wonderful to be back!”.

 

Veronica Gordon

So, the Jubilee Pool was open once again for all to enjoy. But Susan and the Friends were just getting started.

 

Susan Stuart, Jubilee Pool 

From that point on, we knew we had to find a new solution for it, in terms of making it generate surpluses because every year the pool was losing money because we were only open for 16 weeks a year. Then you get storms in the winter; so, all the money you collected in the summer disappeared over the winter and some. We had to find a way of making the pool financially sustainable. How do you make a cold-water swim popular in winter? Not very easily.

 

Veronica Gordon

Quite the dilemma. That’s until the words “geothermal energy” were mentioned by Cornwall Council.

 

Susan Stuart, Jubilee Pool 

They said, “Did you know that there is some money around for a pilot geothermal project? Would you like us to work with you and have a go at it?” And that’s how it started.

 

Veronica Gordon

Can you describe the process of geothermal? What is a geothermal pool?

 

Susan Stuart, Jubilee Pool 

Okay, so it’s a source of renewable energy. In Cornwall, we’ve got a lot of granite. And granite is very slightly radioactive, which means that it produces its own energy. So, if you drill down far enough into the ground, it gets hotter and hotter and hotter as you go down. But there are always pockets of water down there. So, what you want to do is to pump hot water up from the geothermal well; it then passes through a heat exchanger, and then you pump it back down again, so it picks up more heat. And the heat exchanger then meets fresh seawater and warms that up. And that’s what gets pumped into our geothermal pool. So, it’s using the energy that sits down there in the earth to make the water hot. So, it is 100% renewable.

 

Veronica Gordon

Incredible, right. In 2017, the operation of the pool was taken over by the Friends, now called Jubilee Pool Penzance Ltd, and the team were ready to get cracking. But creating a geothermal lido is not a cheap task. They needed a hefty £1.8 million. Luckily, Susan had a plan and it involved the community.

 

Susan Stuart, Jubilee Pool 

It was very clear that Jubilee Pool had always been a big part of the community. We got a fantastic response after the storm damage was all repaired. The numbers of people using the pool went up from 26,000 year to over 40,000 a year. So, we knew we had community support. We also knew we had a hell of a lot of money to raise and it was a great opportunity to really involve, in a more meaningful way, the community in the next phase of Jubilee Pool’s life. So, we started with no shareholders, and we’ve ended up with 1,400 shareholders, and 970 of those live in Cornwall. So, it is really, really owned by the local community.

 

Veronica Gordon

Susan and the organisation had launched an ambitious fundraising community share offer, meaning locals could own part of the pool.

 

Susan Stuart, Jubilee Pool 

So, we had some investors putting £20 in. Our biggest investor, individual investor, put in £10,000. Each of those people only has one share. So, you could never be dominated by big investors.

 

Veronica Gordon

That’s wonderful. That is absolutely wonderful. And that must be so lovely for the community to know they’ve got a part.

 

Susan Stuart, Jubilee Pool 

It is and I’ll tell you what, it’s actually changed the vibe at the pool. You find that local people are almost sort of bursting with it. And particularly when they talk to tourists, they feel proud because it’s theirs, and they really feel it. It’s brilliant.

 

Veronica Gordon

Nearly £540,000 of the £1.8 million funding came from the public share offer. The remainder of the funding for the investment came through a mix of loans and grants from independent trust, Power to Change, Architectural Heritage Fund and the Co-operative Community Investment Fund. With the money raised, the engineers started digging. They drilled down 410 metres, which is the height of one and a half Eiffel Towers, underneath the Cornish rock to reach the geothermal well. At this point in the lido story, I want us to get to know one particular local family who played a very important part in the geothermal pool’s opening this year. Hannah May is from Penzance and lives there today. And for her grandmother, Joyce Cooper, the pool was a very special place.

 

Hannah May, Jubilee Pool local

The pool, I think for her, just represented freedom. She first visited for the original opening in 1935, so she was seven years old. And I remember how she just said that it was pure magic. She could see this patch of blue and her dad lifted her up and placed her on his shoulders and she was just hooked. It just has such a magnetic allure. So, as a child, it was a place where she would play and learn to swim. And then, she took my mother and she took all of us and then she would go with my daughters. So, it just really bridged the family, conjoined the family, and it was a really safe, almost sacred, space for her. She swam there her entire life. She loved the building, but she loved where it was. It was right next to the ocean and it contained ocean water. It represented home, family, freedom for her, I suppose.

 

Veronica Gordon

That’s absolutely beautiful. And, and I know, so it means a lot to your family. What does it mean? What does the pool mean for the community?

 

Hannah May, Jubilee Pool local

As a community space, there’s a real vibrancy to it. Traditionally, when we’re not dealing with a global pandemic, they host events – so sporting events, music events, markets – and there’s a real buzz around the place. And it’s located on the promenade, which traditionally has always been a bit of a social epicentre for the town and for the whole of West Cornwall. People would come here and walk up and down the prom kind of back in the day, and that’s how dating occurred. The women would walk up and down the promenade, and the men would sit there, and then they would get chatting. And that was kind of, you know, a very historic way that people would meet each other. And the Jubilee Pool has always been an extension of that. It’s just one of those spaces that brings people together. It’s a very cohesive space where people love to come and mingle.

 

Veronica Gordon

And so, when the swimming season ended late last year, it was a sad time for Hannah’s grandmother, Joyce.

 

Hannah May, Jubilee Pool local

All winter, I’d been promising her that I would get her back into the water. She was swimming here up until the end of last September when it closed for the season. So, it was a really tough winter. And I’d said, you know, we’ll get you back in the water. And it was the thought of that that really pushed her through and helped her to survive the winter. So, to get to the summer, and I think lockdown obviously didn’t help with the situation. And you know, she did deteriorate, but she was still able to move, and she was very independent and mobile. And she had been asked by the Pool to open the geo-pool. And she was absolutely thrilled, as was I, and really excited about the prospect. But unfortunately, she had an infection in her leg that, because she was in heart failure and kidney failure, she just wasn’t able to fight and unfortunately, as a result of that, she did decline rapidly and she died four days after the initial date was planned for her to reopen the pool. So, it was incredibly sad because I did promise her that she would get back into the water and I feel like I wasn’t able to fulfil that promise.

 

Veronica Gordon

The staff at the lido had hoped Joyce would be the first person to swim in the geothermal pool on its opening day. Sadly, following her death, the pool posted a picture of Joyce on their Instagram page on August 7th, 2020 and part of the caption read, “Today, we say goodbye to a wonderful lady who was a lifetime supporter of the pool. When Joyce was asked to describe the pool in one word, her response was anchor. Joyce and her family remind us just how much the pool means to the community and how it truly is a part of people’s lives. We will continue to do our very best to make sure it’s an anchor for many years to come. Fair winds and following seas Joyce”. When the geothermal section of the pool opened later in August, Joyce’s family were a big part of the event, as Susan remembers.

 

Susan Stuart, Jubilee Pool 

We thought how nice it would be to celebrate the opening with her family. So, her grandchildren and her great grandchildren all came down on the opening day and they were the first people in. And I have to say, I cried again but out of happiness. Just seeing them all go in; it was so emotional. It was lovely.

 

Hannah May, Jubilee Pool local

I made a little speech just thanking everybody because so many people have been dedicated and committed to keeping the pool open, to getting this project off the ground. And it is a really groundbreaking project having a geothermal pool within an art deco 1930s outdoor salt-water lido. So, to be there, yeah, it was great. And I made a little speech to that effect. And then I passed the scissors over to my twin brother, who cut the ribbon, and then we all kind of swarmed in as a family and enjoyed the water and thought about Gran while we were in there. She would have been there in spirit and she would have been equally as thrilled that we were there in her absence. And I definitely felt…so, it was bittersweet. Very sad that she wasn’t there. But I know that she would have been proud of the event and absolutely delighted that so many people get to enjoy this amazing pool.

 

Susan Stuart, Jubilee Pool 

The opening of the geothermal pool – after all of the efforts that local people, staff, directors, volunteers put in and seeing Joyce’s family there – was probably one of the happiest days of my life. It was amazing.

 

Veronica Gordon

Since the opening, things have been going really well at the pool. As well as selling swimming tickets, the dynamic leadership team have come up with creative ways to support the business, including spa treatments. Here’s Business Manager, Nicola Murdoch, again.

 

Nicola Murdoch, Jubilee Pool

We’re obviously significantly limited this year with the number of people we’re allowed to have in the pool at any one time. But ordinarily, we can have 600 people in our main pool, and 50 people in our geothermal pool, and another 30 in our learner pool. So, it’s quite a lot of people. So yeah, through the sale of those tickets, that’s our majority of our income. We also have a really lovely cafe here on site. So that’s another additional income stream for us. And then on top of that, we do kind of more like extracurricular things where we get a lot of…being a very beautiful 1930s Art Deco architecturally important site, we get a lot of people coming to do photo shoots or filming here. And it’s all really important to us to have those, because that enables us to protect our community offering and to keep our prices low for the community because we can attract bigger income from doing those kinds of key events throughout the year.

 

Veronica Gordon

Why do you think people love the pool so much?

 

Nicola Murdoch, Jubilee Pool

You know, a lot of people are nervous or afraid, or just generally not comfortable swimming in open water. I’m one of them. I’m not a big, open, open water fan. I get very nervous about it; I have no idea why, I just do. But I can come and, for all intents and purposes, swim in the sea. But I know that I’ve got lifeguards around me and I know that the side of the pool is not too faraway and I know that there aren’t big horrible sharks and things swimming underneath me in here. So, you do get that people get a kind of a happy medium, so they kind of get a comfort zone. And a lot of people use it to build their confidence to move on to being able to swim out in the sea. And then now, with the addition of the geothermal pool, I mean that’s a unique experience. There is nowhere else in the country, you can come and do that in a salt-water pool, outdoor and in an art deco lido.

 

Veronica Gordon

And the geothermal part, the thought of swimming in somewhere warm outside sounds so peaceful, what is that like?

 

Nicola Murdoch, Jubilee Pool

Oh, it’s amazing. The water being salty, that’s what’s quite different. It’s this warm, salty water; it was even described to us one day by somebody as being in their salted vegetable water. That’s what they described it as, because they couldn’t quite take the taste of it was confusing them so much, sort of from a sensory perspective. But on a day like today, where it’s absolutely blowing a Hooley outside, it’s pouring with rain, there’s people floating around the pool. It’s a really, really, really unique experience.

 

Veronica Gordon

And what’s it like to be able to see the sea from when you’re in the pool?

 

Nicola Murdoch, Jubilee Pool

Oh, amazing. It’s quite bizarre as the tide is high and the boat is coming in, the boat is almost higher than the wall. So, it gives you quite a strange perspective. So, you kind of can see the top of this boat going past you and you do actually, and it often gets said, you do feel like you’re on a cruise ship yourself because of the way the architecture is. And you can see these other boats passing by and you can hear the waves crashing and the birds are flying over you. So, you can totally lose yourself and take yourself off to like a completely different place and really, truly relax and unwind.

 

Veronica Gordon

As well as providing the opportunity to seriously relax, there’s another side to the organisation.

 

Susan Stuart, Jubilee Pool 

Part of what we wanted to do would be able to use the geothermal pool to deliver what we call our social provision. So that is free at the point of use services and activities for people most in need. So, people with mental health problems, people who have problems doing weight-bearing exercise, maybe people who are obese, people who are at risk of diabetes, maybe people with severe arthritis, we’re also going to do it for dementia sufferers. There’s really good research showing the benefit from swimming. Stroke survivors as well.

 

Veronica Gordon

And what are your hopes for Jubilee Pool for the future?

 

Susan Stuart, Jubilee Pool 

I think our hopes for the future are that it stays with its core value, which is all about community, outdoor swimming, outdoor activities. We’ve got this lovely hot pool and we’ve got a treatment room, but we’ll never be a spa. We’re like a wild version of a spa. But also, that it becomes a profitable organisation. We’re getting there. We want to generate profits to protect ourselves from future storms. So, we need to build up a war chest so that we’re not just here until the next storm, we can survive the next storm. Be here for the community for as long as the community wants it really, and it is all about community.

 

Veronica Gordon

I found the story of the lido and the Penzance community heartwarming, yet heartbreaking at the same time. Heartwarming because the pool has been a much-loved part of the lives of generations of Penzance families and because of the way the community rebuilt it after the storm. And heartbreaking because of the story of Joyce; that she died before her beloved pool reopened. But even that led to something touching that the pools bosses invited her family to reopen it instead; truly the beauty of a community. Thank you so much to Nicola Murdoch, Anne Grice, Susan Stuart and Hannah May for telling us their beautiful stories.

If you’ve been inspired by anything you’ve heard in today’s episode, head to www.powertochange.org.uk for more information. This is a Pixiu production brought to you by Power to Change. I’m Veronica Gordon.

But just before you go, I’m not quite ready to get out of the lido yet. So, I’ll leave you with some final words from passionate swimmer and Penzance local, Anne Grice, with her thoughts on this new geothermal pool.

 

Anne Grice, Jubilee Pool local

Oh, bliss. I mean, when this idea was first mooted, I thought “Oh, golly, that really would be wonderful”. Because I’ve had a lifetime of dancing and my poor old knees are really suffering. And I thought, the thought of lying in warm saltwater in the middle of the winter, just moving my legs very gently, is a fully blissful thought. And the first time I went in, I thought I knew it was going to be warm. But I didn’t expect it to be so warm, and it just seemed so particularly buoyant. And so, it was just wonderful. And then we found this one place slightly deeper. So, we were just holding on to the side, and then just moving our legs gently. It was just amazing. And then I slowly got used to that, but the thought of being in warm saltwater, say in the middle of the winter, blissful thought