Wild swimming coming soon to Beckenham Place Park

When I think of wild swimming in London, what springs to mind is Hampstead Ponds or The Serpentine.  But soon people will be flocking to the SE London/Kent borders for a slice of the action.

Thanks to a multi-million pound cash wedge from the National Lottery Heritage Fund and the Greater London Authority, the historic Beckenham Place Park, many of its listed buildings and former lake are being restored. This summer will see the launch of a brand new café, education centre, play area and most excitingly – a large, man-made lake for wild swimming.

Happy memories

Beckenham Place Park will always be special to me as my Dad used to take me when I was a kid. It felt like a vast undiscovered gem that no one else knew about. There was a hugely exciting rickety old zip wire, probably rigged up by kids, and it was very easy to get lost among the beautiful bluebell filled woods.

It wasn’t until more recently, when I moved back to the area and started my own family, that I visited the park again. I remember thinking it was still beautiful but also somewhat neglected and underused. But there have been some positive changes to the mansion building and park in the past year as part of the first phase of the restoration works. Slick signage (from the same designers behind Copeland Park and the Bussey Building), an impressive events and activity roster and an improved BMX park have all helped to drive up visitor numbers.  The closure of the golf course has also led to a big uptick in dog walkers who previously stayed away.

Flagship project for London

I spoke to Councillor Chris Best, a fellow Sydenham resident who is personally involved in the park’s regeneration. She explained that this is a flagship project for London and Mayor Sadiq Khan is keeping a close eye on it. The hope is that the regeneration will increase usage of the park substantially – up to 2-3 million visitors to the park and a million to the mansion by 2021. The Council’s aim is that the park’s users also reflect the diversity of the surrounding areas.

The park will receive a grand new entrance to match its history and facilities – with the restored Southend Lodge and Gate House creating an entrance for visitors coming in from Beckenham Hill Road. The new café/bar and education centre will be situated here, as well as new units available for commercial rent. It hasn’t been confirmed who’ll be running the new café, but the plan is for it to be very child friendly with a healthy menu.

The best bit… the wild swimming lake!

The new wild swimming lake will be in the same spot as the original lake that was created by John Cator, who owned and lived in the mansion in the late 1700s.  There will be plenty of space to swim as it’s a big lake – 285m x 48m and 3.5m deep at its deepest point. There will be a shallow sloping area for people to paddle and to access the deeper water. The sloping area will be topped with sand to make it more pleasant underfoot. And there will be no need to book for a swim – people can just turn up.

Kayaking and other water sports will also be on offer as well as wild swimming – these are yet to be confirmed but hopefully one or two water sports companies will take up residency.

20th July is launch day

The official launch date is Saturday 20 July – when both the wild swimming lake and new café will be ready. There’s a whole raft of activities planned including live music, food stalls, Georgian dancing, storytelling, bouncy castles, face painting, tours and treasure hunts.

As a user of the park, Chris has been excited to see the changes over the last year – and has enjoyed events such as the ‘So Last Vintage’ fairs in the grand mansion building, to concerts with live bands playing on the mansion’s balcony. 

Chris is also open about the fact that the project has its detractors, in particular regarding the ancient trees that were cut down as part of the regeneration. She says that trees had sprung up “higgedly piggeldy” in the location of the old lake. The plan from now on is to manage where the trees appear and thousands of new saplings have been planted. The new woodland management plan was written by an independent ecologist and approved by the Forestry Commission. You can read more about the Council’s tree management here.

Near the formal gardens there will also be a new play area for kids. It’s called the pleasure grounds and will feature a cradle swing, diggers in sand and a climbing frame.

What about the weird old pub?

Chris also mentions future plans to tackle the unloved, derelict Foxgrove pub within the park. I have a fondness for the place as my Dad also used to take me there as a kid for a packet of cheese and onion crisps and a pineapple juice, while he had a Sunday pint. Chris hopes that they can secure the funding to turn the dilapidated building into a thriving arts venue – perhaps housing a resident theatre company.

Beckenham Place Park will always have a special place in my heart, and I have to admit the fact it was somewhat underused was part of its charm. You could wander in the woods and see very few, if any, other people – very rare in this area. But there’s no doubt that the dramatic changes heading the park’s way will transform it into a family paradise and a key destination, not just for locals but anyone in London and Kent looking for a brilliant day out.

What do you think? Will you be heading there this summer? I’d love to hear your thoughts!i

If you enjoyed this post, you might also like to read my blog about Dragonfly yoga, the new not for profit yoga studio in Sydenham which aims to help young athletes.

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  1. Olga
    April 19, 2019 / 7:48 pm

    Great article thank you. I agree on the “underused” being part of the charm of the park, but it is really exciting to have the park regenerated. I can’t wait for it to be finished.
    Just a shame that the walk to the park for people coming by public transport from Beckenham Junction (with train and tram links) is along a very busy road with a couple of dangerous side road crossings with no zebra or lights. Hopefully this will also be addressed.

    • carlamarie
      April 20, 2019 / 7:45 am

      Hi Olga, I believe the council is looking at accessibility, so hopefully there will be other routes in/safer access. Thanks for reading x

  2. April 19, 2019 / 7:52 pm

    So excited for this! Have loved seeing the transformation to Beckenham Place Park

    • carlamarie
      April 20, 2019 / 7:43 am

      Thanks for reading. I know, I can’t wait!

  3. Carole Hope
    April 19, 2019 / 10:16 pm

    Hi, as a fellow Lewisham resident perhaps, as you are acquainted, you could ask Cllr Best on my behalf (as she ignores me because my questions are too difficult) about the £1.9m officers are asking Lewisham Mayor and cabinet (of which she is a member) to stump up to 1) to finish the project in the west after the budget has been exceeded and contingency is not enough 2) to carry out any improvements in the east after the Council stupidly relied on the Environment Agency to fund this when they were nowhere near being able to confirm a start date and, ultimately, funding was not in place? This from a Council which may have some upmarket hipster areas but much of which is deprived and desperately underfunded? Or perhaps London Mayor Khan will stump up the £1.9M, after all it is only a couple of quid per visitor for all the flocks of people that will be coming to use the fake lake (especially from Lewisham!) And by the way, the Foxgrove building was not devastated by fire, that was the Homesteads, which Lewisham Council was quite happy to shore up with scaffolding for a decade despite another option from a community trust being available. And the council evicted the social club from the Foxgrove for arrears of rent, despite a repayment plan being on the table from the social club. As for Chris Best referring to higgledy-piggledy trees growing – Jesus wept! Yeah, great, fell mature, healthy trees because they are inconveniently growing in the wrong place! It’s an environmental and ecological joke!

    • carlamarie
      April 25, 2019 / 5:02 pm

      Hi Carole, thanks for your comment and for correcting me regarding The Foxgrove, I have amended accordingly. I’m afraid I’m not well acquainted with Chris, this was a one off interview about the lake and park’s regeneration.

  4. Tracey Axon
    April 20, 2019 / 7:43 am

    This looks fantastic!

    • carlamarie
      April 20, 2019 / 7:51 am

      Doesn’t it just! 🙂

  5. April 20, 2019 / 5:10 pm

    Park regeneration is always good. Love the idea of a wild swimming lake

  6. April 20, 2019 / 8:14 pm

    Wow this looks amazing. If we lived closer we’d be sure to check it out!

  7. Sian Nicholls
    April 22, 2019 / 2:11 pm

    Will there be a charge to swim in the lake?

    • carlamarie
      April 25, 2019 / 4:48 pm

      Hi Sian, not as far as I know.

  8. Lesley Hayward
    April 23, 2019 / 7:03 pm

    . There are more people in the park , most of them dog walkers, I have had a few unpleasant experiences with the dogs and will not go into the park alone, which I used to do before the regeneration. People may not be aware that a a lady was attacked in the park by a rottweiler last year resulting in her having two operations on her arms, the dog was put down, it did become a police matter.
    How many non dog walkers use the park? often my husband and I are the only ones.

    • carlamarie
      April 25, 2019 / 5:04 pm

      Thanks Lesley, I wasn’t aware of the dog attack, how awful. I go quite a lot with my kids and we haven’t ever had any issues, thankfully.

  9. April 25, 2019 / 3:24 pm

    I can’t wait for the regeneration to be complete I moved to the area 8 yrs ago and hoped this would happen as we use the park a lot. Is there any news on the mansions application for a music licence? I remember something about them hoping to get permission for events for 5,000 people. Which would be amazing. Thankyou

    • carlamarie
      April 25, 2019 / 4:49 pm

      Hi Stella, I don’t have any intel on the music licence, sorry. Sounds good though!

  10. S Vanderzee
    April 28, 2019 / 4:30 am

    What health and safety precautions will be in place regarding the lake? Young families wanting to paddle and experienced wild swimmers are very different groups to cater for.

    • carlamarie
      April 28, 2019 / 11:33 am

      Very good question, I’m not sure. I don’t think there will be any lifeguards. Hopefully all will become clear closer to the launch.

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