We’ve been so heartened by the response that we have received so far from people furious at the news that the Council wants to close Moseley Road Baths for swimming from 2015. This is particularly frustrating, as they were so close to submitting what looking like being a successful bid, which would have secured the building for another 25 years and made it a viable Heritage and swimming facility.
Councillors are making the case that they have no money, and have had the gall to cite the equal pay case as the reason for being unable to find the £3million to match fund the bid. In reality, £3million, to be spent in two years time, over the course of two years, to secure a building for 25 years and to attract £5million to a ‘deprived neighbourhood’ sounds like good financial sense to me (especially when compared to £12million for Harborne Pool and millions spent on the new library). The alternative is to do unplanned ’emergency repairs’ that can escalate dramatically and eat into other budgets.
Or, the Council could allow this building, situated in the heart of Balsall Heath, to fall into disrepair, and for the area to see its high street become increasingly run down. A glance over at Stirchley Baths gives an idea of what we could expect. There is so much hand-wringing over ‘regeneration’ and ‘civic pride’ – the answer is literally on our doorstep.
But surely this is ‘austerity Britain’, and we all have to tighten our belts? Speaking with one regular swimmer yesterday who relies on swimming for her health, and who is currently battling to retain disability benefits, closing the only local pool to her would lead to a further deterioration of her health. As cuts bite elsewhere swimming is a cheap, accessible way to improve physical and mental health, prevent isolation, and build the kind of cohesive, supportive community that politicians dream of.
Let’s also not forget that many school pupils in the area are failing to meet the standard for being able to swim a length by the time they finish primary school. When both pools were open at Moseley Road Baths there was a full programme of school swimming. Now kids just get a taster, maybe a term a year. Nothing consistent, not enough to gain the confidence to learn this crucial life skill. This isn’t about chasing the Olympic dream. It’s about meeting the national requirements.
Last Autumn when the Heritage Lottery Fund bid was being submitted, I was part of the consultation exercise conducted by Birmingham Conservation Trust. They were quite overwhelmed by the responses they received. School teachers were discussing how the building could be used for Science lessons, dancers wanted to use the Gala Pool for performances, students came and practiced their photography there. I’ve lost count of the number of people who have been in touch wanting to use the building for filming. And everyone is eager to see some kind of permanent history exhibition there that teaches kids and adults alike about this marvellous building’s history.
So this COULD be viable. It COULD be something people would travel to visit. It COULD be a real source of pride for Balsall Heath and Birmingham. Unfortunately our local councillors just continue to bring shame to our area, with no vision, no commitment to the neighbourhood and no idea of the needs of local residents. If today’s reaction to the news is anything to go by, they have a shock in store….