Community perseverance, tenacity and vision brings hope of rejuvenating a local lido for generations of local people
Through numerous challenges and dried up funding, a committee of Brynaman residents have shown dogged resilience to breathe life back into the local icon with Community Asset Transfer giving the community direct control of its sustainably-minded future.
See this page in: Cymraeg
Where did the Brynaman Lido regeneration idea originate?
In the local community – there has been a lido in Brynaman since the 1920s – it was built by local people, paid for by the miners’ ‘penny in the pound’ scheme as the country emerged from the crippling losses felt by the First World War. It has survived in several guises since then.
In its most recent history it was entrusted to the local authority, now Carmarthenshire County Council who are the current Trustees. It was run by local volunteers for many years with a small subsidy from the council. In 2010, after the recession hit the Council closed the pool citing costs and need for refurbishment as the reason for closure. Following closure the local community tried to get the lido reopened but were unable to persuade the Council that it would be viable. In 2014, we set up the current committee as a kind of last resort to try and get it reopened. Lengthy negotiation with the council and the resurgence of lidos around the UK has led us to this point. Despite years of neglect the structure still stands and has the potential to be brought back into use for future generations.
Can you give us a summary of what has been achieved?
For over 5 years the committee worked patiently with officers, making plans, getting support from the local people, businesses, community leaders and councillors to develop a forward looking plan for the lido that was acceptable to Carmarthenshire County Council. The new plan was summarised into a colourful and exciting presentation showing how the lido could look in the future rather than looking to the past. Persistence added to the recent changes in the popularity of outdoor pursuits and swimming helped to change the minds of the council and they agreed in December 2019 to transfer the lido to the committee – now Brynaman Lido Limited.
Did you have to overcome any major obstacles / challenges?
Yes, many. Mostly it was a case of doing lots of research and developing a really strong business plan that showed councillors and key staff within the council that the lido could have a different and more exciting future. The biggest challenge was negotiating the hoops that we had to move through with council staff in order to get them to recognise the value of our proposition, continuously pursuing them and getting responses to a myriad of emails. Another major challenge was to keep the committee going when we had so many setbacks and for a long time felt like we were struggling to make any progress.
We lost some good committee members along the way and fortunately were able to get new ones, with a solid and tenacious core who managed to keep going in the face of adversity.
Of course now that we have overcome those challenges we have been faced with 1) floods which sapped funds and people’s ability to donate to our cause and 2) COVID-19 which means that a) the major funds we would have applied to aren’t now available to us; b) it doesn’t seem appropriate to raise funds for a lido refurbishment that hasn’t even started yet when so many people are losing their livelihoods and c) social distancing and the ‘new normal’ is unknown and may mean that our business case needs to be completely rewritten.
We were told the Community Asset Transfer process could take up to a year but we are now concerned it will take even longer under the current circumstances.
"Collaboration through shared knowledge and experience is crucial in any sector, but is particularly important in the voluntary sector where many small enterprises experience similar difficulties. Sharing experiences of dealing with local authorities, legal structures, funding bodies, HMRC and other government agencies can be really helpful."
More patience and continued negotiation with Carmarthenshire County Council whilst we wait to come out of lockdown. We need to revisit our timescale and see what will be possible as the country recovers from the pandemic. We will tread carefully and sensitively but with the hope that a sparkly and refurbished lido, with all the advantages of outdoor swimming will be something that both the local community and the council will see as an essential part of the recovery.
We have made some progress and have been approved for a fundraising page and support from CAF (Charities Aid Foundation) – this will give us the opportunity to have an ongoing fundraising campaign and they will accept donations and organise gift-aid on our behalf. We are set up as a Charitable Community Benefit Society and have registered as a charity with HMRC which allows us to get the same benefits as a registered charity with the Charity Commission.
We are considering what our next move should be and as things begin to open up we will discuss our options internally, with the local community and with the local authority. We need to be mindful of asking people to raise money at such a difficult time.
Any there any members of staff / community you would like to give special mention to?
We don’t have staff, just a committed band of people who bring their own special strengths to our cause. I commend them all for their patience and perseverance.
How has Social Business Wales New Start been supporting you?
Since we first contacted Social Business Wales, Wales Co-operative Centre and more recently Wales New Start they have been extremely helpful to us. Their support gave us reassurance and confidence to keep moving forward and helped us to strengthen and set up our business model. They are always there to lend an ear and have a wide knowledge of the voluntary sector, providing advice on getting community support and funding for our project. They have also provided essential financial support to help us with research and to get us through the setting up process of a Charitable Community Benefit Society. It has been very good to have advisors who are independent of the local authority and politics.
Can you describe the importance of local community and social businesses collaborating to build resilience in uncertain times?
Collaboration through shared knowledge and experience is crucial in any sector, but is particularly important in the voluntary sector where many small enterprises experience similar difficulties. Sharing experiences of dealing with local authorities, legal structures, funding bodies, HMRC and other government agencies can be really helpful. Finding other people and organisations who have similar aims and might want to collaborate is essential to the success of the sector. One of our aims, for instance, is to use renewable energy and sustainable practices and whilst we aren’t experts in that field there are other social businesses who are. We have developed our knowledge by consulting with Wales Energy Trust and the network of UK Lidos and we’re happy to share that with others. We are fortunate to have Awel Co-op based in our area so have benefited from a relationship with them. These ‘uncertain times’ have had one silver lining that has revealed the possibilities of putting Climate Change first and the important role that the renewable energy sector will have in the future.
If you had one message for the social business sector right now, what would it be?
Have patience, have faith and support each other. It’s not forever.
If you have a social business idea and want to learn more about the support available from Social Business Wales New Start, book on to one of our ‘Start Something Good’ regional webinars or get in touch with the New Start team to see how they can help.
Brynaman Lido Limited has received business consultancy support and advice from Social Business Wales New Start, funded by the European Regional Development Fund and delivered by the Wales Co-operative Centre.
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