Swimming had been free in Hampstead ponds since the late 19th century. In 2005 a £2 optional fee was first introduced but it allowed swimmers to choose whether to pay or not. This charge was doubled to £4.05 and made compulsory in 2020, a move which was controversial. Passes for 12 months are available for £126.62 or £75.97 for concessions, an increase of 15% since last April.
I have swum in all three ponds (women's, mixed and men's!) and can attest to the positive impact on mental health. The ponds obviously are not treated with chlorine or heated like lidos or normal pools but there are changing facilities, loos and lifeguards so I can see why a charge might be necessary.
A judicial review has been brought by Christina Efthimiou who is claiming that the increased charges disproportionately affect people with disabilities who swim at the ponds to manage their conditions. The effect of swimming in cold water has been widely shown to improve mental, emotional and physical wellbeing. Ms Efthimiou also set out that the women's pond was Europe's only natural bathing pond exclusive to women.
Ms Efthimiou was allowed permission for a judicial review in August 2021 after the increase in prices, with a disproportionate increase for concessions.
The judicial review started yesterday and continues today.
"I've got challenges from the moment I wake up, but when I'm there [the ponds], mentally, emotionally and physically I feel on top of the world"