Tooting Bec Lido floats down Tooting High Street


After months of hard ironing of plastic bags into hats, tabards and watery fronds; sawing up gazebo poles, moulding plastic bottles and bubble wrap into a giant swimmer; creating divers from cardboard tubes, ducks from card and paper and snowflakes from coat hangers; building a sun from old umbrellas and a giant iceberg from wire and more plastic bags, the Tooting Bec Lido float was ready for the Trashcatchers’ Carnival.

Sunday 4 July. Sunny and warm but with a brisk breeze to keep us cool. 33 SLSC volunteers arrive at Fircroft School at 1pm ready to climb into plastic tabards in the colours of the iconic Lido doors. Deborah Wright arrives early to be fitted into her fountain lady costume – a fantastic creation of a crinoline skirt hung with plastic bottles and a backpack sprouting springy tent poles draped in fronds of bubble wrap – her fountain structure is so high she very nearly takes off in the wind that wooshes through the playground.

There is a great buzz all around us as other groups get ready – fabulous fish, a giant turtle, wheelbarrows full of home grown produce, gorgeous butterflies, elephants and insects, all made from rubbish. There are drummers drumming and pipers piping as we wait for the off. Finally we are making our way through the gates onto Mandrake Road with people standing outside their houses looking in amazement at this colourful parade. We wait for a while in Mandrake Road while the police sort out the entrance of the Carnival procession into Upper Tooting Road.

How fabulous that we are walking a `representation’ of Tooting Bec Lido down Tooting High Road – a blue oasis from the hussle and bussle of the city dropped into the melée of Sunday afternoon traffic, shops and shoppers. Halfway down a fire engine roars for access to the high road and an ambulance sirens its way down. The Carnival parts like the sea of plastic bags in the Pacific. The emergency vehicles speed through and the procession continues.

The lovely door accompanists swim alongside the Lido float to the amusement of the crowds as we turn into Broadwater Road and off the High Street. Up Fishponds Road where the children who had been travelling on the float – just like a summer’s day at the Lido with all the kids in the shallow end – obligingly jump off so that Andrew Ingamells and Ben Bennett don’t have any extra weight to pull up the hill. And finally, here we are turning into Fishponds playing fields where an enormous circle of banners, carnivalistas and floats is being formed. We have a chance to look at the detail of all the other beautiful objects made from rubbish and wonder at the ingenuity and the time given to make this all possible.

Free food is on offer, generously donated from local shops. There is dancing by children in Indian costumes and cups of well-earned and much appreciated tea.

All too soon, it’s time to put the float away, trundling it back the way we have come but turning right onto the High Street so that we can take it back to the Carnival Factory. Great fun to stop the traffic again, this time without a police escort. All the drivers we encounter are very positive and smiley.

And what was it all for? Bringing different parts of Tooting together, illustrating how supposed rubbish can be re-used to make things of beauty and that high streets don’t always have to be highways: they can be community spaces too.

By doing something out of the ordinary the Lido crew have helped Transition Town Tooting show that people and places can change, that there are other ways of living in a low carbon future. Well done Lucy Neal, Hilary Jennings and the TTT team for such a wonderful Carnival.

by Sue Rentoul