Hilsea Lido was opened in 1935 and rapidly became known as an Art Deco jewel of the south coast. Designed for 750 swimmers and up to 1,000 spectators, it was the training venue for the GB diving team preparing the 1936 & 1952 Olympics and was the backdrop for scenes in Ken Russell’s film of the Who’s rock opera ‘Tommy’.
However early in the Millenium, the Lido fell into a state of disrepair and neglect and the council closed it in 2008. A pressure group formed which later became Hilsea Lido Pool for the People Trust to encourage the local authority to review the planned closure. When that failed the group felt the only way to protect the lido from being demolished was to take over the derelict Lido and adjoining café in 2010 on a 99 year lease from Portsmouth City Council.
The Lido reopened in July 2014. In 2018, Power to Change awarded the Trust a grant of up to £10,000 to match fund the income this community business takes from entrance fees and the takings from the adjoining Blue Lagoon tea room.
The facility is now a year round destination that is rapidly regaining its rightful place at the heart of this Portsmouth community. Not only is it used for swimming, but it is a location for triathlons, synchronised swimming galas with the possibility of developing sea survival and scuba diving courses. Teaching a respectful attitude to water is important for a city that has a problem with ‘tombstoning’ where typically young men jump into the sea for the thrill and end up paralysed or worse in the shallow waters.
‘I am one of your early lads. I am so proud of what we achieved through our work here’
Before the community took it over, the Lido was a magnet for anti-social behaviour. Lifeguards were regularly pushed in and children as young as eight would be left unattended at the pool. This meant that the large numbers of unaccompanied children created management issues and families stayed away. Now Hilsea Lido is run by volunteers, all those who have been part of the revival of Hilsea Lido and its visitors take pride in the Lido and ensure that it is an asset for the city, something everyone can be proud of, rather than a negative space. The venue now attracts families and the anti-social behaviour that was a major issue when the site was managed by the local authority has been eradicated.
The less advantaged members of the community have also benefitted in other ways. Much of the artwork around the Lido walls has been created by young people not in employment, education or training (NEETs) and the original clean-up of the derelict site was by young offenders. One of them came back years after his original time at Hilsea Lido and said: ‘I am one of your early lads. I am so proud of what we achieved through our work here’.