Background to the Pells Pool: From Victorian Philanthropy to Community Partnership.
The Pells outdoor swimming pool in Lewes is the oldest and one of the largest freshwater pools in the country. Recent excavations show that the present pool tank, 50 yards by 25 yards, lies within two previous shells, the oldest being the original brick-lined 1860s pool. It was built on land that, along with the adjacent park and lake, was originally donated to the Constables of Lewes and others (meaning the townspeople) in May 1603!
Quite recently the original document with the King James I wax seal intact was discovered in the vaults of Lewes Town Hall! In more recent times the pool and parklands have been run by Lewes Borough Council; then Lewes District council; and now Lewes Town Council, who hold the site in trust and thus prevent its sale or development. During the 1980s and 1990s Lewes District Council had on a number of occasions suggested that the Pool be closed: these suggestions were met with a great deal of public opposition.
In March 1999 an extra-ordinary Town meeting was called in response to over 4,000 signatories signing a petition objecting to the announcement that the pool was to be closed and a skateboard park built in its place. At this meeting, Lewes Town Council offered to fund the pool in the short-term. It was agreed that the District Council would run the pool for one more season, on the understanding that a group of local people formed an organization that would work towards running the pool in subsequent years and planning for the longer term.
The build up to the opening of the pool that season witnessed an amazing public response, with scores of people putting in hundreds of hours voluntary time in cleaning and renovation work. Hundreds more signed up to become members of the 'Pells Pool Campaign'. Throughout the season volunteers worked alongside Council staff. Over £4,000 was raised by selling refreshments.
In May 2000 the Pells Pool Campaign became the Pells Pool Community Association, a charity and not for profit company limited by guarantee, with a constitutional remit to run the pool for the benefit of the people of Lewes and surrounding area.
The Town Council, with the confidence of knowing that such strong local commitment existed, took ownership of the site from the District Council and agreed to make a contribution of £10,000 per year to the PPCA for three years to enable them to become fully established. This was subsequently extended indefinitely in recognition of the PPCA's increasing success; standards have been raised across the board and an annual loss of £40,000 has, in recent seasons of good weather, been replaced by an operating profit of around the same figure.
Over the past ten years, many improvements have been carried out. This has been possible due to the generous contributions from local individuals, charities and businesses, our own profits, volunteer labour and the continued support of the landlord, the Lewes Town Council.
The partnership between Lewes Town Council and the PPCA has ensured the short-term survival and success of the pool. A joint working party has been set up with representatives of both organizations with a view to ensuring the pools long-term future.
One outcome of this has been the commissioning of PTE architects to drawn up plans for the phased regeneration of the pool and its technical infrastructure. We have secured funding from the Awards for All Lottery Fund for the first phase of this, providing changing and toilet facilities and a ramp for easier access to the pool, for disabled and less mobile customers. In 2007 the Town Council provided additional funds for maintenance and upgrading of basic facilities.
Fundraising and profits put aside from the 2005 and 2006 seasons have also provided funds for an upgrade of the straining and chemical dosing system. The next priority is to refurbish, but not replace or paint, the existing marblite pool tank and tile band and to replace the surrounding coping stones. A joint funding application with the Town Council, to reconfigure the kiosk so it can serve refreshments to the adjacent park as well as the pool, is an exciting prospect for the future.
We would welcome comments and ideas from our customers so please do get in touch with us. We are hoping to build up an archive of memories; anecdotes and photographs about the Pells so please do contact us if you can provide any material.
Reminiscence from Barbara Misquita.
My name is Barbara Misquita nee Luxford. I was born in Lewes at home in East Street on 6th March 1953. My sister Sue and I spent so many happy times at the Pells swimming pool. We started going to the pool as small children. I taught myself to swim in it when I was only 6 years old. In those days the pool opened on the first day of May. Sue and I always went on the first day no matter what the weather, we just couldn't wait!
We would often be the only 2 kids in the pool and the water temperature was sometimes only 54 degrees. This was always put on the board on the side wall, freezing I remember, but we just grinned and beared it as we both loved swimming so much.
In the summer on the long hot evenings we would dash home from school, grab our cozzies, make a sandwich and a bottle of orange made in an old medicine bottle and off we went. Sometimes we stayed until it closed at 9pm, never getting bored even for a second. We would go as often as we could, some weeks we were there in the pool every day! Both my sister and I ended up really good swimmers being able to dive (we both loved the diving board and as we got older went on the tiered boards). We would swim under water, dive to the bottom and collect things and do numerous handstands, rollies etc. At the age of about 9, because we went so often I got to know the ticket man (can't remember his name). I then used to help him out, taking money, giving out the wire baskets you kept your clothes in and giving out the wristbands with your shelf number on.
If we had a quiet moment he made a nice cup of tea: what a treat! I remember we would nag mum into coming to the pool with us in the morning because if you had an adult with you, you didn't have to leave at lunch time, so we could stay the whole day, By then my baby sister Amanda had arrived so she would come and play in the paddling pool. Heaven! My family left Lewes when I was 14 years old but I have never forgotton the fun we had at the pool.
I hope it stays open forever as it is so rare to have a unique outdoor pool like the Pells. May each new generation have as much fun and the amazing memories that I have.