Dolly's Diary

Dolly Meets: Deryck Chester of Saltdean Lido

 Dollydagger Photo Shoot at Saltdean Lido in 2009

Photo: No this isn't Deryck! This is from a Dollydagger shoot at the lido in 2008!

In the summer of 2008 we ventured over to Saltdean Lido to do a shoot. It was a cold and blustery day in the height of British summertime, in the days before Saltdean Lido began the transformation from neglected treasure to art deco, streamline moderne masterpiece, which is ongoing today.

11 years later, we visited the lido again and met with Deryck Chester, Director of Saltdean Lido Community Interest Company, the organisation responsible for restoring this beautiful building and making sure it is not lost forever.

Deryck has dedicated 9 years of his life to saving Saltdean Lido; it’s a tremendous achievement and one that many would have given up on long ago. Thankfully he didn’t, and his hard work and determination have now paid off with the project having recently been awarded funding to continue renovations of the building [although funds still need to be raised for the internal fit-out, more of this later].

We asked Deryck to tell us a bit about the Lido and its history:

"Saltdean Lido is designed and built in the streamline moderne style [an International style of art deco, that emerged in the 1930s] which borrows from nautical elements. It has a grand rotunda which looks like the bow of an ocean liner. Like a liner there are three decks represented by three floors, the ground floor with the rotunda cafe, the first floor which in its heyday was part of an amazing restaurant space, and the top floor which is the roof deck and something which hasn't had general access since the building was closed in 1940."

"The reason it's here on the eastern border of Brighton is because just after the First World War, a property developer called Charles Neville was driving along the coastal track between Newhaven and Brighton and came across a strip of farmland. He said to his wife that it would be a fantastic area to build a string of seaside villages where people could live and invest, and have homes by the sea and also come on holiday. He started with an area that became Peacehaven, then started developing Saltdean in the 1920s."

"He built the whole of the Saltdean development along the lines of the Garden City model, which was becoming popular at the time because of the problems with inner city living. He chose this model because it used the natural environment: you have the South Downs on two sides and the sea to the south, with lots of green spaces. He built it initially as a gentrified holiday resort, with access to the downs for hunting and riding; there were stables, and access to the sea." 

"As development continued he looked at what was happening in America - the hotel complexes that were being built there and decided that to put Saltdean on the map he would come up with two landmark designs [The Lido and The Grand Ocean Hotel]. He worked with Richard Jones, his favourite architect, and they came up with the design for the Ocean Hotel [also built in the streamline modern style] which sits on the hill overlooking Saltdean [now a wonderful apartment block] and was the first hotel in Britain to have a swimming pool."

"Saltean Lido was the most modern Lido to be built in Britain, so it had a crescent shaped leisure pool (40M long) and this amazing building designed to have a relationship with the pool. People ask why the pool is so odd [the deep end runs along its length, and is a crescent shape]; it was so that it sat within the wings of the building - if you look at the building from the south, with the sea behind you, you see that the building embraces the pool with it wings and rises above it like an ocean liner. The idea was that it would be an amazing sun trap facing due south."

"We're going to be producing a book 'Saltean Lido - Temple to the Sun' which documents why the Lido is of such important architectural status, why it's the only Lido with Grade II* listing, and which covers the background to the holiday resort and its social history."

What happened to the Lido during the war?

"People think that the Lido closed at the outbreak of war - it didn't. It soldiered on in true wartime spirit - servicemen came to visit and we know an RAF pilot met his bride to be here. As the Battle of Britain happened in the summer of 1940 there were dogfights in the skies above Sussex and a local lady says she remembers being on site when a Messerschmitt came over and opened fire on people in the pool - luckily nobody was hurt. Around that time, in June or July we think, someone decided to close the lido but it was still used by the National Fire Service during the war so played a crucial part as a training facility."

"The building lay derelict until 1960 when Brighton Council bought it. They restored it and made it more of a community centre. A stage was built across the rotunda where people used to look out onto the pool, and the community used it for parties and dances from 1964 when the council's restoration of the site allowed it to be reopened."

"In the 1990s, as with many councils across Britain, they decided [because swimming pools don't make money] to look for a private leaseholder to take on the pool. Within a few years the leaseholder said that he said that he couldn't afford to operate the site and wanted to fill the pool in with concrete and build 102 apartments which would have been Saltdean's last link with its history as a tourist destination."

"When he announced this in 2010, local residents set up a campaign group to stop the development and save the lido, which was successful. We petitioned English Heritage to upgrade the listing from Grade II to Grade II*, which made it very difficult to turn it into flats, and the council had to take back the lease which took several years. All the while the building was deteriorating, so my organisation formed the CIC which is a non-profit run entirely by volunteers."

"We won an open bid tender to take on the lease of the building and since then we've been raising funds to restore it. We restored the pool which opened in 2017, and our whole business plan has been based on restoring the building so that we can generate enough income to subsidise the pool, so we're doing all this to save the building but at the same time to prevent the pool operating at a loss which it does now without council subsidy."

Brighton Swimming Club Synchronised Swimming at Saltdean Lido Opening
Brighton Swimming Club ready to dive in on Opening Day in 2017

Brighton Swimming Club Synchronised Swimming at Saltdean Lido 2017Brighton Swimming Club Synchronised Swim on Opening Day in 2017

So what’s next for the Lido?

"We're going to take the building back to its heyday by making it a visitor destination. We're going to remove the stage which has blocked off the best part of the building since 1964 when it was reopened, and it's going to be a high end venue for weddings, corporate hire, for touring art installations, for music events, and at the same time we're going to make sure there's community access so when it's not being hired out we'll make sure the community can use it as much as they can."

"We're going to put in a brand new library and install a lift. We will then be able to restore the symmetry of the original Streamline Moderne design which has been lost. The ballroom will be suitable for 150 covers which is a reasonable size for a wedding or corporate event."

"The Lido used to have a funnel on its roof which we are reinstating along with all the railings that would have lined the edge of the decks on a ship"

(I feel another shoot coming on!)

Landscape 3D Render of Saltdean Lido

Photo : 3D render of the building as it will look after renovations (wow!)

3D render of new Saltdean Lido Cafe

3D render of Saltdean Lido Café as it will look after the renovations

"The build will take 1.5 to 2 years and we're looking at opening around 2020 if we're lucky, although more realistically 2022 as we're not sure when we're going to start yet."

So do you now have funds to complete the project?

"Regarding the money we've raised - the restoration of the building will cost about £6.5m. £1.9m will come from the lottery fund, and various other grant authorities have supported us but we were left with a shortfall, so the Council as the freeholders will underwrite the shortfall of £1.5m and that means that we can go ahead with the project which is fantastic."

"But we still need to raise money for internal fixtures and fittings so the important message is that we still have funds to raise."

How did you get involved?

"I grew up in this area - I moved in 1985 with my family and used the pool as a kid so I know the building quite well. I studied history at University and have an interest in architecture so when I heard of the plans to fill in the pool with concrete and build flats I thought with my local knowledge and memories of when it was a holiday village - the local hotel employed 200 staff (of which I was one as a kid) and the lido attracted so many tourists to East Brighton - that with the infrastructure in place that this could be a vibrant destination again so I got involved to help with the historical research and the business plan. It's an obsession - it has to be otherwise you wouldn't find the time to devote to it."

"Other than the building itself, we're planning our events programme for the summer and we still need money for the changing room block outside but more importantly although we can make the building structurally sound we need more money to build a lot of facilities to make it viable."

"We've put together an activity and heritage interpretation statement to tell Saltdean Lido's own unique story: why it's there, how it was used during the war, and we're also going to have listening posts. We'll be recording oral histories from people who visited before the lido closed in 1950, and from people who visited in the 1960s up to the present day - their holiday memories of Saltdean Lido and what made it special for them." 

"We're also going to record oral histories from its sister building, the Ocean Hotel, from people who remember holidaying there from when Billy Butlin took it over in 1952. Some people saw the Coronation there so it was a mad dash to get the ballrooms ready for the guests, some of whom were coming from America especially. Various well-known comedians, actors and celebrities visited the hotel throughout its history. All that history will be recorded and made available in the beautiful Heritage Cafe. It's going to bring all this history alive for visitors, tourists, academics, children - it'll be a really fun place to visit."

When will you start taking bookings?

"Let's walk before we can run! People have contacted us about weddings, but we said not yet! We still need more funding, to do all the restoration works to the physical building and we really do need people to help fund the interior fit-out." 

How can people donate?

"They can go to our Just Giving platform or buy a limited edition (500 only) print featuring Saltdean Lido by artist David Thompson. They are signed and numbered and cost £70 including delivery. [All the money raised from the sale of this print will go to the Lido restoration fund]

Saltdean Lido Print by Dave Thompson
Saltdean Lido by Dave Thompson, all proceeds go to the lido restoration fund

Is there anything else you’d like to mention?

"The Community Interest Company and the Saltdean Lido Trust is operated by volunteers."

"The organisations have been set up to safeguard and restore Saltdean Lido for the benefit of current and future generations. The swimming pool is not subsidised by the local authority, so the art deco building must be restored to its former glory as an all year round visitor destination and community facility, in order to give the site a sustainable future. Our restoration project is almost funded, but we desperately need capital support to help secure the build and fit-out of the venue as a beautiful art-deco destination venue, fit for weddings, corporate hire, pop-up restaurant evenings and special events. Saltdean Lido’s façade and ballroom took inspiration from the Queen Mary, but sadly most of its original features were ripped out after the Second World War. We would like to pay homage to its iconic design, by making it a venue fit for its listing as the only Grade II* lido in the UK." 

"Please help us secure the restoration of Saltdean Lido, leaving a legacy for future generations, and make it an all year round visitor destination with a sustainable future."

Saltdean Lido is open from 7am to 7pm Friday to Monday; book tickets to swim here and view events (including open air cinema!) here and in case you missed the link above, if you value our heritage and want to support the restoration of the lido please donate through their just giving page.

Take a look at the gallery of photographs we took in February of this year:

Saltdean Lido pre renovations in 2019Saltdean Lido rotunda exterior 2019Saltdean Lido rotunda exterior 2019Saltdean Lido rotunda windowSaltdean Lido rotunda before renovationsSaltdean Lido rotunda balconySaltdean Lido balconySaltdean Lido rotunda windowSaltdean Lido stairwell windowsSaltdean Lido rotundaSaltdean Lido internal windowsSaltdean Lido stairwell exteriorSaltdean Lido interior decorSaltdean Lido parquet flooringSaltdean Lido interior windowSaltdean Lido ballroomSaltdean Lido stairwellSaltdean Lido interior curtainsSaltdean Lido interior decorSaltdean Lido interior window

Recent Photography by Nick Miners at Infromthestorm.

Now go and donate!