Reclaiming Kenwood Ladies’ Pond for women

Take action: if you have experience to share as a Ladies’ Pond user let us know using the survey.

The Kenwood Ladies’ Pond on Hampstead Heath is an iconic open-air single-sex service in London that was changed to running on the basis of gender self-ID, without consideration for women who want to swim in a female-only space.

Based on the City of London’s “Gender Identity Policy”, anyone who identifies as a woman (including a fully intact male) is allowed into the Ladies’ Pond, as well as the communal changing-room and showers, and the (topless) sunbathing meadow.

This was adopted following a flawed consultation in 2018 and a misreading of the Equality Act. At the time the City of London Corporation (which manages Hampstead Heath) argued that restricting access to services depending on ‘biological sex’:

“would be inconsistent with the Equality Act 2010, other than in exceptional circumstances”

The recent guidance from the Equality and Human Rights Commission on single-sex services makes clear that this is a mistake. Services can be provided on the basis of biological sex where this is a proportionate means to a legitimate aim. There is no need for exceptional justification. In the case of the Hampstead Heath ponds there are three ponds: one for men, one for women and one for both sexes. There is no question of transgender people not being able to swim, and there is no reason to allow anyone to use showers, changing rooms or other facilities for members of the opposite sex.

As the Kenwood Ladies’ Pond Association says, the pond is (or is meant to be):

“a unique women-only space for swimming and relaxation that also provides a place of refuge and security for women and girls of all ages, including those who have suffered violence, abuse and coercive control; those with disabilities; low paid and unwaged carers; and those from religious faiths that require modest dress and segregation of the sexes.

This is not compatible with allowing men who identify as women into the space.

It is clearly a legitimate aim to provide a female-only swimming pond and to exclude all males from it.

Let Women Swim

The pond was the focus of gender-critical campaigning in 2018 and attention is now being focused on it again. The Let Women Swim protest on 27th August on Hampstead Heath showed the strength of feeling, and the increasing mobilisation of women who want to return the Kenwood Ladies’ Pond to a female-only space.

Sex Matters’ Executive Director spoke at the event and read out highlights from our single-sex services survey (where several people mentioned the Ladies’ Pond):

“I used to go to Hampstead Ladies Ponds but now will not now it’s open to men.” 

“When I see males in the area of the women’s pond in Hampstead and especially in the shower area where women are naked, it feels very unsafe, and that our space is violated.” 

“The Women’s pond on Hampstead Heath used to be women only, now it allows men in and that puts me off swimming there. Some of the men who have been allowed in having indecently exposed themselves and sexually harassed the women in the changing rooms.”

“Because of trans inclusive rules allowing males into female spaces, men – including those with paraphilias – are able to freely access Hampstead Women’s Pond (when they could choose to use the mixed pond) with its open showers and changing area. I have made an objection on one occasion, only to be contradicted/gas-lighted by lifeguards: “She is not a man – she’s a trans woman!  She is female.” I feel very apprehensive now when I am on my way, in case I will come across men there.”

“I entered the women’s pond area and the first thing I heard was a man’s voice – he occupied a bench and was talking loudly to his female companion.  Which felt like, and was, a violation of space which is supposed to be safe for women only.”

Tell us your experience

If you are a regular or occasional swimmer at the Ladies’ Pond, or you used to swim there but have stopped because of their policy, or you would like to swim there but are prevented by the policy, please tell us about it.

Use this form to tell to share your experience and help us challenge this policy. Include your email and tick all the boxes if you want updates. You can also follow the hashtag #LetWomenSwim on Twitter.