It’s interesting to note that when the Peninsula Voice was last published all those years ago, the Jubilee Pool was oft mentioned within its pages. Indeed it even made the front cover latterly, with a brilliant cartoon by Clive Wakfer depicting the then mayor Cllr Venn, celebrating amongst huge crowds at the official reopening following extensive restoration works in 1994- despite his having voted to close it for ever a few years previously.
Regaled as Penzance’s very own ‘White Elephant’ in the eyes of the late St Ives Cllr Harry Storer, who couldn’t comprehend why Penwith District Council should continue to pour money into it- despite the vast proportion of funding coming from grants from English Heritage and others, and equally vilified by other councillors (again, seemingly all hailing from St Ives) who simply couldn’t get their heads around why Penzance needed a ‘concrete beach’ even though they had lots of lovely sandy ones. As a consequence the pool became the subject of heated argument in the corridors of power at St Clare, but it somehow managed to hang on, a rare survivor indeed given the number of similar facilities which succumbed to the demolition ball during the lack-lido 1960’s, 70’s and 80’s. when the appeal of PFI funded heated water leisure centres meant nobody in their right mind surely needed to bathe outside in cold water, occasionally in the rain, any longer.
To use an apposite (but admittedly somewhat cringe-worthy) metaphor, it seems that the tide has turned over the past decade for the popularity of Jubilee Pool. It is, I am quite sure, not without its detractors but they are seemingly silent and rare in number and most definitely outnumbered by its hordes of enthusiastic fans, locals and visitors alike, who clearly recognise the value of the pool’s intrinsic appeal and heritage value. Add to this its role as an amenity, a place to savour those precious few, sunny days (yes, I know this summer was exceptional, but more of that anon) and to experience the vicarious pleasure of a refreshing dip in cold seawater and you seemingly have a recipe for success.
No article about Jubilee Pool would be complete of course without mentioning one man. Even as I write this I’m quite confident that the late John Clarke (for it is he) will be blushing in Heaven. He was certainly the most modest and self -effacing gentleman- in every sense of the word- that I’ve yet met. Thankfully however underneath his benign exterior was an iron man with a steely determination to ensure the pool survived. Having formed The Friends of Jubilee Pool he then spent a good decade of his retirement working tirelessly to ensure it did. His quest began when the pool was threatened with being covered permanently with an 80’s style copper coloured glass pyramid structure by some uninspired developer or other. Have no doubt about it, without John’s commitment I wouldn’t be writing this article now, and the pool would either be derelict or at best an ornamental garden.
Remarkably no renowned international architect first penned the radical modernist vision for the pool. Instead it was the local borough engineer, one Capt W Latham who using his skills as an engineer and keen amateur architect to create what has been described by experts as ‘one of the best modernist buildings in Europe’.
So the pool remains a distinctive and much loved amenity, one of those special places that makes Penzance thankfully very different from other towns. It’s a rare building that somehow manages to juggle being three or four things all at once- local amenity, heritage asset and tourist attraction, and aforementioned concrete beach, but what does the future hold for this modernist marvel?
Well, I hate to break it to you but I’ve got some bad news. Given the perilous state of Cornwall Council’s finances and the equally perilous state of the structure of the pool, those of us who enjoyed luxuriating in the sun at the poolside this summer best hang on to your collective memories. The pool is threatened now perhaps more than ever and we need your help.
The likelihood of some enlightened developer coming along to ‘save’ the pool is frankly as likely as finding, er, an enlightened developer. Besides, other lidos having gone down the private sector route have soon seen their plans sunk without trace- a prime case being Saltdean Lido near Brighton. A particularly sorry tale, despite being the UK’s most important example (I still think ours is much better!) it’s future now hangs in the balance following numerous failed attempts to engage effectively with the private sector.
The Friends of Jubilee Pool’s long held ambition has been to ensure that all revenues gained at the pool stay at the pool. We would like to see the café (once the current lease expires, of course) operated as a social enterprise- much like the Fifteen Cornwall restaurant, clearly a hugely successful role model- so that every time a cup of coffee, tea or evening meal is sold to you or I, all the profits get ploughed back into the building and not into a private operator’s pocket. Add to this mix more all year-round activities and a profitable café that opened throughout and I believe we’ll have the answer to ongoing maintenance issues.
Maximising the potential revenues in this way will also demonstrate to funders that the pool can contribute directly to its own survival. Combine that with an enlightened approach to the day-to-day operation of the pool, alongside continued close liaison with the pool’s owner Cornwall Council, and not least enthusiastic support from the community, a sustainable future for the pool is surely achievable.
The alternative for me at least, and I hope for you is too much to bear. If you’d like to join The Friends of Jubilee Pool, then please do get in touch. If you can offer any specialist advice you’d be very welcome to dive in with us.
Chair, Friends of Jubilee Pool