Weymouth & Portland Borough Council recently tried to sell the iconic Greenhill beach chalets on stunning Weymouth Bay but numerous covenants combined with passionate community opposition served to make them an unattractive private investment. Since then the council has decided to re-open the top tier of chalets and the balcony with the lifeguards’ station to try to earn much needed extra revenue. The top tier was closed prior to the Olympic sailing events in 2012 because it was deemed unsafe for the expected large crowds to view from. The crowds didn’t materialise but only now, four years later and after losing around £65,000 from lost rent is the council keen to bring them back into use.
Year round sea swimmers who informally use Greenhill as their base asked the council if they could have a dedicated and secure changing/kit storage facility (declaration: your author is a year round sea swimmer). At first the council thought the idea was a good one as it was explained to them that sea swimming (open water swimming) is experiencing a surge in popularity worldwide and that Weymouth has a rich history of sea swimming, especially Channel swimming. But after showing representatives of #Weyforward around the facility they sent us a long email explaining why it would not be possible. The phrases “maximise financial opportunity” and “best financial return” were used, without apparent ironic intent.
Our hunch was that if we started a carefully worded petition to put pressure on the council we might be able to get a list of people who would commit to paying for such a community run facility on a regular and sustainable basis. We thought we could earn the council more money from the available space than they could. So we set out to get 260 people to say that they would pay £5 per month to use a swim facility. Why 260? Because that would match what the council aimed to get from letting 12 chalets to just 12 people. Our plan was much more democratic and community focused. Swimming is hugely democratic, we’re all the same in our trunks and cossies! It is also extremely good for your health, both physical and mental. Post a refreshing swim most people report feeling a weight to have been lifted from their minds. It’s a great workout, it’s great therapy and…it’s free. So encouraging more people to swim in the sea more often would seem to be a very good idea for everyone.
We passed 300 signatures after just a week and half and by that time Martin Hamilton the new Director of Strategy had met us and promised to work towards a mutually beneficial outcome of a dedicated swim facility at Greenhill! Success, not just for us but also the council for being so willing to think differently and start to work in a more open and collaborative way.
Watch this space…