Thames Baths has known Theo Thomas for a number of years and so we thought it was about time he contributed to the blog. Theo is The London Waterkeeper. London Waterkeeper is a member of Waterkeeper Alliance, a global federation fighting for fishable, drinkable and swimmable water. London Waterkeeper is the capital’s only truly independent voice for rivers. Theo worked at Thames21 for 12 years. During this time he set up the ‘Love the Lea’ campaign to make members of the public aware of the problems facing London’s second river. He established its water quality testing laboratory. He was and is a big champion of green infrastructure to reduce the amount of pollution that reaches our rivers.
We asked Theo to tell us about his plans for making the Thames swimmable above Putney.
Thames Baths would bring swimming to the heart of London. Dedicated pools in one of the World’s iconic rivers, in front of its most famous landmarks. Swimming in the Thames in this central section is prohibited so a series of pools is the best option. It would be dangerous to swim in such a busy stretch of the river where tides and currents are strong.
Upstream of Putney Bridge swimming is allowed but of course when and where is fundamental to safety. Upstream of Richmond Lock the Thames is semi-tidal, and beyond Teddington Lock non-tidal. Depending where you are the nature of the river is very different. People do swim in the Thames upstream of Putney, but it is a fraction of the potential numbers. I’ve swum at Twickenham shortly before high tide and it was an incredible experience. Access to the river in places like this, in London, and further out west is pretty good. In some locations swimming is a regular occurrence, in others the heyday is long past. Clearly to make parts of the Thames swimmable for many more people will be a challenge. It took Copenhagen ten years before you could swim in its harbours with confidence. But the rewards are immense. The mental and physical health of thousands of people would be boosted.
The biggest barrier is water quality. Sometimes the Thames meets bathing standards. At other times it fails them, but we don’t know when. We need to know when sewers overflow reducing water quality. Copenhagen has a real-time bathing water monitoring system. Seattle notifies the public when sewers spill, again in real-time. Other cities issue warnings when their sewage systems can’t cope. We’re some way behind that in the UK.
Public access to environmental information is crucial for a healthy democracy and sustained improvement of the environment. Currently too little is available and so it is hard to determine the real situation; whether standards are improving, about the same or worsening. In terms of going for a swim, kayak or paddleboard, river users are denied crucial information.
The Environmental Information Regulations 2004 say we should be told when sewers overflow and London Waterkeeper wants to see water companies meet their legal duties. If this data is combined with information technology we can have a powerful system that empowers river users (existing and potential). It will be a transformational change that deepens our connection with the Thames.
More information and how to donate:
• natural swimming
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• River Thames
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• winter swimming
During the UK’s recent heatwave, the Thames has looked increasingly irresistible. One blazing afternoon at Thames Baths HQ we stumbled upon a film about river swimming in Bern and posted it on our Facebook page.
Swiss-Canadian swimmer Mel Schori, then got in touch and offered to share his adventures in Bern with us.
Mel grew up in Nova Scotia, Canada but has spent the last 12 years living in and exploring Switzerland so who better to talk us through it!
Switzerland is one of the most beautiful countries in the world, with countless amazing spots to relax during a visit. But when the temperature climbs to the high twenties and low thirties during the summer months, you’ll need a place to cool down. Luckily, the capital city of Bern offers one of the “coolest” summer experiences around, and one of the best ways to beat the heat on a hot day.
The Marzilibad, a public swimming area just behind the Swiss houses of parliament in the center of Bern, is the place to be. Just a few Swiss Francs will get you entry to this swimming area (which also includes lush lawns and beach volleyball) as well as a locker to leave your things. If you’ve ever been to Switzerland before, you’ll know that almost nothing is cheap, so the cost factor is an even bigger bonus.
Once your things are locked away, you are ready to go! You’ll walk towards the water and follow the flow of people walking up river, along a paved path. The excitement builds at this stage. You just can’t wait to jump in the water as you see hundreds of people, young and old, floating by, all looking like they wouldn’t trade this for the world. Some are swimming with the flow of the river to race back towards Marzilibad, maybe trying to catch up with a friend. Some lay on their backs and carelessly float along, while others enjoy “river props”, like inflatable unicorns, swans and giant slices of pizza.
Along the way, you’ll see bridges covered with young people, mostly teenagers, who wait patiently for a safe time to show off their patented back flip. If you have the nerve, go and join them, but no stress, no one will make fun of your simple tin soldier bridge jump if you aren’t an Olympic diver 🙂
After walking for a little while (it takes about 15-20 minutes), you’ll come to an opening where most people decide to enter the river. You’re so warm you just can’t wait to cool down, but keep in mind, Swiss lakes and rivers are filled with water which flows down from the mountains, so be prepared to get really cool, really quickly! The river temperature is usually around 20 degrees Celsius during the summer.
Once you’re in, just enjoy it, you’ll adapt to the temperature within about 30 seconds. Swim, splash, float, joke, smile and laugh. It’s an absolutely fantastic time. The river flow is pretty strong though, so be careful if you aren’t the best swimmer. After what seems like 10 minutes of so, you’ll reach the Marzilibad again. It’s well set up with lots of bars to grab when exiting the water. There are also multiple places to get out, so that shouldn’t be an issue. Just keep your eye on other swimmers so you don’t float too far.
As soon as you get out, you just can’t wait to do it again. But when you’re ready for a break, there is plenty of room to lay in the grass and work on your tan, or stroll over to find a drink or ice cream (my girlfriend Rachel’s favorite). On a hot summer day, spending a few hours at the Marzilibad can only be described as “living the dream!”
Mel Schori, Zurich
• open water swimming
Permits, Licences, Assessments…Understanding the complexities of building on the River Thames.
Tim Beckett of marine engineers Beckett Rankine talks us through working on Thames infrastructure projects.
Beckett Rankine are the marine consultants advising Thames Baths. Based in Westminster the firm works worldwide and has been responsible for the design of some of the world’s largest ports, such as Ras Laffan in Qatar. Closer to home Beckett Rankine has designed and helped gain consents for more than 200 projects on the tidal Thames over the last 20 years.
The Thames through central London is experiencing a level of construction activity unprecedented in living memory. Leading these projects is the Thames Tideway Tunnel (TTT) where construction of the first temporary wharf facility has recently started on site at Chambers Wharf. A similar cofferdam structure on the foreshore is due to commence shortly at King Edward Memorial Park with a new slipway for Shadwell Basin Activity Centre also being constructed.
Other TTT sites due to commence construction in 2017 are at Blackfriars, Victoria Embankment, Kirtling Street, Albert Embankment, Chelsea Embankment, Cremorne Wharf, Putney and Hurlingham Wharf. Advance enabling works for the TTT project include the recently completed replacement of Blackfriars Pier and the moving of PS Tattershall Castle.
A sad departure from the river has been the HMS President which has been moved to Chatham Docks to make way for the TTT works at Blackfriars. We hope she will be returning to a new berth in the Upper Pool but that is by no means certain as it is dependent upon fundraising.
Non TTT projects for 2017 include a new passenger pier at Battersea Power Station which has just started on site. Planning permission has been granted for the Diamond Jubilee footbridge at Imperial Wharf while there are a number of other new or replacement piers in the pipeline; both Canary Wharf East and Royal Wharf piers should be delivered this year.
Beckett Rankine have been assisting many of these projects both with the engineering designs and also in obtaining the statutory consents. Obtaining consents for works within the river are much more time consuming than for land based developments. Planning permission from the local planning authority is required for any development but once planning is achieved, onshore development may not need any other consent other than complying with the Building Regulations.
If the project is in the Thames then in addition to planning consent the project will also require a River Works Licence from the Port of London Authority, a Land Drainage Consent from the Environment Agency and a Marine Licence from the Marine Management Organisation. These marine consents require a number of supporting studies such as a hydrodynamic assessment, ecological study, archaeological assessment and a navigational risk assessment. The navigational assessment can be particularly challenging as the Thames is a busy tidal river; areas where there is deep enough water for vessels to navigate at all states of the tide tend to be heavily trafficked.
While the river may look little used to a casual observer this is because the majority of the heavy freight movements take place an hour or two either side of high tide. Furthermore some of those movements, such as the tugs towing the waste barges, are difficult to manoeuvre and therefore need a generous clearance around them. Once the TTT starts excavation work in 2018 and the spoil is removed by river there will be a dramatic increase in freight movements for the navigational risk assessments to consider.
Despite these constraints the PLA’s new vision document, proposes to encourage increases in use of the river for freight, passenger vessels and sport and recreation. To deliver these intensified activities in central London without compromising safety will require an increasing degree of inventiveness.
• River Thames
O2H 50 Mile Thames Swim
by Katia Vastiau, O2H openwater swimmer
On 14th of July, myself and four other swimmers from openwaterclubs.org.uk Oxford and Henley (Jeremy Laming, Malcolm Burfitt, Mark Plested and Phillip Cater) will be donning our wetsuits to set out on an epic 50 mile (80km) swim as a pod, from Oxford to Henley.
The challenge is all being done in aid of local charity the Chiltern Centre for Disabled Children who aim to give disabled children and young people the opportunity to live life to the full whilst providing their families with a valuable break and the support they need in their vital role as carers. Although the charity is local, there is no post code restriction on who can benefit from help from the centre. The only limitation to help more children and families is budget, to cover the cost of more staff.
Our intention is to swim the distance over two and a half days starting on the 14th July at Osney Lock in Oxford and finishing at the Angel on the Bridge in Henley on Saturday 16th, in the afternoon.
We are all experienced open water swimmers and used to swimming in lakes and the Thames. Nevertheless, this is by far the biggest challenge any of us has ever taken on. It might be a quick drive from Oxford to Henley, but the Thames takes a long undulating stroll through the beautiful countryside to get there. 50 miles is a long way!
Although the swim takes place in summer, spending ten hours a day in sub 18C water (the weather hasn’t really been playing ball this year!) is still a big expense of energy in itself and will add to the challenge. But we are all very excited about the whole adventure and the support we are getting, and have been training hard, finding time for long swims, usually really early in the morning and bonding as a team too!
We have set our goal high: £15,000. This will enable the Chiltern Centre to fund one of the on-site nurses for nine months. We have raised £4,000 so far which will already fund twelve overnight stays at the centre. So when things get tough on our swim (and they will!), this is what will definitely keep us going!
We will have a tracker with us on the swim so you can follow our journey online – all the details will be posted on our Facebook page before we start. Please “like” our page or follow us on Twitter, to get the updates. Feel free to leave us messages during the swim as our support team will be able to pass them on! Those REALLY do help!
If we are passing near you, feel free to come and meet us at the locks or cheer along the way! We’ve already been promised some hot drinks at Radley’s boathouse, and by the lovely people at the Waterfront Café in Benson. The Swan at Streatley is putting us up and feeding us in the evenings, so we can have a good night’s sleep. Perhaps join us for a beer at The Angel on the Bridge on Saturday afternoon…hopefully not too late.
Thank you to Thames Baths for taking an interest in our challenge and thank you all for reading and following! It’s getting very close now and we’re all itching to go!
And last, but not least, this is the link to our fundraising page!
Every little helps! If you’re able to spare a few quid, we would be most grateful! Feel free to share widely too.
We have a couple of corporate sponsors too, and their logo will appear on our t-shirts and social media. There is still time to add yours (until 8 July – £200 for the logo).
Facebook : https://www.facebook.com/O2H50Miles
Twitter : @O2H50Miles
• open water swimming
• River Thames
The 2016 PROPS Property Awards Lunch Brochure
Rebuilding Our Urban Waterways
by Chris Romer-Lee, co-founder of Thames Baths Community Interest Company
Over the last 2 years a lot of people have asked me, why swimming in the Thames?
Its taken a bit of time but I now know why, there’s water in my veins. Watery holidays were a consistent feature of my childhood. Whether a narrowboat holiday on the Grand Union or being buffeted by surf along the Cornish Atlantic coast these were considered proper family holidays, come rain or shine. In pursuing this vision for a floating lido in the Thames, I’ve begun to realise that I’ve always had this special bond with water. So it’ll come as no surprise that very similar holidays are now a key part of my young family’s repertoire.
It was the summer of 2013 when we were all swimming in Lake Zurich that this campaign was born. A tweet from The Architecture Foundation alerted me to an Open Call for ‘Future Ideas for the Thames’. The Swiss, Scandinavians and frankly most cities in-between have an intimate relationship with their urban waterways. Floating baths were prevalent across Europe from the early 1800s and in most cities the essence of this relationship remains.
It’s often overlooked but London‘s last floating bath was in 1875. Moored just downstream from Westminster, the cast iron and glass structure heated and filtered Thames water for what must have been an unforgettable indoor swimming experience. The Thames has been integral to trade in London and up until the Bath and Washhouses Act of 1846 it was also one of the few places to swim in London. The Great Stink of 1858 led to Sir Joseph Bazalgette’s magnificent sewers and then almost 100 years later water quality hit an all-time low when the Natural History Museum declared the river biologically dead. However, since then numerous organisations’ tireless work has seen the quality of the river water improve dramatically. Bazalgette’s sewers solved one problem but created another. With the new embankments, the river was narrowed, the foreshore lost and the city seemed to turn its back on the Thames as London’s population grew from 4 million to 8 million today. The encroachment on public space along the riverfront has been rampant over the last 20+ years. Our plans are about re-connecting Londoners with the lifeblood of our city, providing much needed ‘green’ and ‘blue’ spaces along this precious resource.
Thames Baths is a naturally filtering, floating lido. On the steel pontoon is a 25m 6 lane pool and a smaller training pool. Supporting functions such as changing rooms, café, shop and are spread over the generous open deck. This isn’t just an amazing chemical free natural swimming pool but a new public space for London, an extension to the riverwalk. Thames Baths is a community asset and a CIC (Community Interest Company). Our proposals are supported by three overriding principles:
– Environment- naturally filtering Thames water and reintroducing native planting
– Education- a place for children to learn to swim but also to learn about the Thames
– Health & well-being- continuing to diversify London’s ‘green’ and ‘blue’ public spaces and encourage participation in sport at all ages.
Our plan is to deliver an exemplary project for London’s largest underutilised space. From the design to realisation we’re seeking out the best consultants, partners and sponsors to help us. This isn’t easy but we’ve already started to make huge steps to achieving London’s first floating baths since 1875. With the 1200+ Founding Members established during our Kickstarter campaign we believe we’re well underway to making this a reality.
If you’d like to become one of our partners or sponsors please don’t hesitate to get in touch with us, we’d love to hear from you.
• natural swimming
• open water swimming
• propery awards
• River Thames