Three months before the first lockdown I was made redundant from a PR and marketing agency I’d been with for more than 11 years. And then just a couple of months later in January 2020 my partner and I moved into our new flat in Leyton – right opposite Lea Bridge station.
After gardening for two-and-a-half years, wanting to dip my toe into my old work life, I found out about East London Waterworks Park, a volunteer-led charity based across Hackney and Waltham Forest. The idea is for the project to create a longer, more widespread legacy than just the Olympic Park in Stratford.
I then read about its crowdfunding campaign on Facebook. It was launched to raise £500,000 to demonstrate community support for the project to transform an old Thames Water depot off Lea Bridge Road, on the cusp of Waltham Forest and Hackney, into the first new swimming ponds to be built in London since Hampstead Ponds in 1777.
Two months ago I joined a volunteer group publicising the crowdfunder. So far we’ve achieved some fantastic media exposure including featuring in The Observer, BBC Radio London, Time Out, The Evening Standard and most recently as the front cover feature in Outdoor Swimmer.
But we need to spread the word even further and wider – this needs to be a community-owned park created by and for everyone. Such openness by allowing anyone to join any working group is an opportunity for local people to create a focus for doing good in their spare time.
Hackney benefits from the incredibly popular London Fields Lido and Hackney West Reservoir for outdoor swimming, but Waltham Forest has no outdoor swimming provision. During the recent heatwave, swimming pools were inundated with locals desperate to cool off. With some 40% of young people in Waltham Forest and Hackney living in poverty, many of the existing facilities are simply too expensive.
The sustainably maintained ponds will cover around 5,000 square metres and allow more than 1,000 people to swim each day for free. There will also be spaces for scientific research, arts, and a make-and-repair café. The park will be the largest community rewilding plot bought from the UK government. It will create habitats for rare butterflies, invertebrates, bats, and birds, and be the first public swimming ponds in the UK to be filled with rainwater cleaned naturally by reeds and aquatic plants.
This is a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to improve the environment, and the physical and mental health of the people of East London. We need to raise £3 million within the next year to buy the land, before we miss this once-in-a-generation opportunity to make a real difference to our local communities.
We’ve made great progress so far, having nearly reached £300k, but we still need your help. With your support, we can raise £500,000 directly through crowdfunding. Once we achieve this, we have every reason to believe it will unlock further funding of £2.5 million from corporate donations and grant funding.
Main image credit: @jonathanperugia @gaia.visual