FORTY years after Sandgate Hydrotherapy Pool opened its doors, supporters of this "priceless jewel" gathered for a tea party to celebrate its ruby anniversary.

The Kendal pool opened in November 1977 thanks to the vision and ambition of Westmorland Mencap Society, at a cost of £80,000, and its supporters fought to save the much-loved asset from closure back in 1999.

In the warm waters of the Kendal pool, located on Sandylands, around 450 people each week experience the life-changing benefits of physiotherapy in water - from patients with arthritis, breast cancer, multiple sclerosis, head injuries and severe disabilities, to mothers and toddlers, children with learning difficulties, and people recovering from accidents and falls.

Almost 100 people attended the 40-year celebrations at Castle Street Community Centre, including Lord-Lieutenant Claire Hensman and Kendal's mayor Cllr Andy Blackman. Colin Ranshaw, chair of the South Lakeland Hydrotherapy Trust, thanked everyone for their hard work in keeping the pool afloat.

Nadine Scott, chair of the Friends of Sandgate Pool, is among those who have benefited from the pool's therapeutic surroundings and dedicated team of staff.

"The warm water helps with pain relief, movement becomes easier and the buoyancy and support from the water helps you to carry out movements that are very difficult on dry land," said Mrs Scott, whose femur was shattered in an accident.

"From hopping for over two years I am delighted that I can now enjoy five-mile walks and ride a bicycle. I cannot thank the physio enough who introduced me to the hydrotherapy pool."

Mr Ranshaw, chair of the Hydrotherapy Trust, also credits the pool with his recovery from a road accident, saying: "I would not be walking the way I am were it not for hydrotherapy."

As he explained, the comforting temperature - 34.5 degrees C - helps prevent cramps and shivering, and improves circulation, while the weightless feeling of being in water enables people to exercise with greater movement and much less pain.

"This is a real jewel that Kendal has," said Mr Ranshaw, "and the people that had the vision to set this up in 1977 - people like Pat Allen and Sue Andrews - who fought hard to keep this pool going recognised the value of such an asset."

He recalled one little girl who was virtually paralysed by meningitis, but when she entered the water she was "beaming and grinning all over her face" thanks to the feeling of freedom it gave her.

The pool costs around £140,000 each year, with the money coming from entry fees, Cumbria County Council, Cumbria Clinical Commissioning Group, Kendal Town Council, and South Lakeland District Council.

The Friends of Sandgate Pool are tireless in their fundraising, and the Hydrotherapy Trust has made major investments such as modernising the changing rooms and replacing the boilers.

The pool is open seven days a week, and manager Gretl Cook says the benefits to people's overall wellbeing are enormous, with friendships made and groups going out for Christmas meals together.

"As soon as people walk down those steps they go 'aah'. It's lovely," she told the Gazette.

"When people have had an accident or a major trauma or operation, there's a lot going on in their head that can't be fixed overnight. It's not just about them requiring physio, we talk to them as well.

I've seen clients come in here who thought they won't walk again but they've done it. It repairs people's minds as well as just physical damage."