Category Archives: Thoughts

Life-long learning at Moseley Road Baths

Kat Pearson writes about her experiences in the campaign to save Moseley Road Baths.

When I do any event or post on social media for Moseley Road Baths (MRB), people will always talk to me about the pool being where their love of swimming began, or how their children and grandchildren are currently learning to swim there. This is part of what makes it such a special place.

Although I love swimming at Moseley Road Baths, my experience of learning there has been a very different one. I’m a part-time student studying Conservation of the Historic Environment at Birmingham City University and I’ve been involved with the Baths for over two years. My involvement started with a project writing a Conservation Plan for an at-risk location. I chose Moseley Road Baths because it’s a beautiful Grade II* listed building which is significant to the city, and as someone who’s lived in Birmingham for over 10 years I’ve always loved swimming there. For me it was also really important that I worked on a building that was under threat but had community support and an active Friends group working to save it, so that my studies could hopefully feed in to that.

After I finished my project I was asked to join the Moseley Road Baths Action Group. We are working as part of a coalition with the National Trust, World Monuments Fund, Historic England, and the Friends of Moseley Road Baths alongside Birmingham City Council to hopefully create a sustainable future as a swimming pool for Moseley Road Baths. I am now a director of the Community Interest Company (MRB CIC) that we’ve set up to enable us to take over swimming provision from the council next year, and am helping to lead on things such as social media engagement and fundraising especially for our Crowdfunder.

Being able to be involved in such a high-profile campaign working with national and international heritage bodies at this stage in my career has been invaluable to me, and I have learned so much from working with so many skilled and enthusiastic people. I also didn’t envisage when I started thinking about future options for the building as a university project, that within two years I would be a director of an organisation which is hoping to run a community swimming pool!

As our campaign to keep swimming at Moseley Road Baths continues, engagement with universities and colleges is going to be vital to its success. We are currently working with students from the ‘Ironbridge Institute for Cultural Heritage’ and the ‘Department of Film & Creative Writing’ at the University of Birmingham and they are bringing new skills and ideas to our group as well as allowing us to reach a different audience. We’ll also be looking to train and employ volunteer staff including lifeguards, and I hope that some of these will be students who can benefit from gaining experience in this amazing building as much as I have.

If you’re a student (or if you’re not!) and you want to get involved please follow us on social media or get in contact via keepswimming@moseleyroadbaths.org.uk to find out how you can help.

 

The case for investing in swimming

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.

Pupils banner

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.

Reopen Moseley Road Baths!

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….

Astounding response to Heritage Consultation!

We have seen an overwhelmingly positive response to the consultation work that Birmingham Conservation Trust have been doing as part of the bid to the Heritage Lottery Fund for restoration and heritage projects at Moseley Road Baths.  There is a great write up on their blog.

Baths Questionnaire

Lots of you have been completing questionnaires on your ideas for the building (these can be found at the Baths and many local community venues), there was lots of interest at the Eid Mela a few weeks back, 133 people took a ‘Behind the Scenes’ tour last weekend, every single department at Joseph Chamberlain College has expressed an interest in using the Baths with students, plus this week we are meeting with local schools to discuss their vision for activities at the Baths. Phew!

I was lucky enough to meet with Suzanne Carter, part of the team from Birmingham Conservation Trust conducting the consultation, and representatives from local arts organisations. We took a tour around the building, delving into nooks and crannies. It’s so inspiring and affirming to see people getting visibly excited by the possibilities in the space.

We spoke about how the individual cubicles for the slipper baths could be used creatively, how the archive from the Pool of Memories could be used as inspiration, and we got very excited talking about how everything from the smallest detail of the tiles and marble to the huge expanse of the Gala Pool could be employed for photography, film, projection, dance and drama.

It’s clear to me that we have a really wonderful opportunity to combine the heritage and beauty of this inspiring building with the creativity and talents of local people.  Let’s push to make sure that we can make these things happen!

A few reactions to recent news…

Thanks so much for all your supportive comments in response to the reopening of the Baths being delayed once again. We thought that it was appropriate to share some of your thoughts – please do keep them coming via e-mail or using the comments section below. We know full well how passionate you all are about the building and swimming, but feel it’s important that we convey this to others as well. So, here are a selection of your comments:

  • This seems to be poor management again. Is it deliberate incompetence?  Perhaps officers should be personally liable for the results of ongoing neglect of this important building.
  • Perhaps ‘they’ should have the lost revenue from the Baths being closed stopped from their salaries
  • Sad to see the reopening date keeps going back (now April/May).  It’s as though any excuse (now flaking paint) to delay opening.
  • Councillor Kennedy asks does the pool sit as a sport or heritage site – I say it must sit as both.  Keep up the pressure on them. This building must not be allowed to close as a pool.
  • Labour Councillors want us to believe that lead paint was being used in 2004?  They must think we’re mugs!
  • Anyone fancy a sweepstake on next excuse for not opening the Moseley Rd baths. My moneys on a blown light bulb in reception.
  • Hmm, did they confirm which year? Let’s hope it’s 2012. This family needs to swim.
  • Thanks also to Moseley Shoals who sent us an e-mail outlining the impact the closure has had on their swimming club, making it nigh on impossible to swim as a club.

Of course, using this blog is nowhere near as effective as the public contacting the press and Councillors directly – follow this link for details of Councillors.  Hall Green Constituency Councillors will be voting on the options in March, so please address e-mails to them.  Cllr Tony Kennedy chairs the group and Cllr Martin Mullaney is the current Cabinet Member for Leisure, Sport and Culture.

Happy 5th Birthday!

The Friends of Moseley Road Baths group is 5 years old! We were born at a public meeting attended by around 100 people, held at Moseley Road Methodist Church on Monday, November 27th 2006.

In an age when many people have such full work, family and social commitments it takes a lot to keep a community group such as ours going. Many well-intentioned organisations never make it to their fifth birthday, so it’s testament to those volunteers who give so freely of their time for a cause they feel passionately about that the group has made it this far and is still going strong. We’ve got a core of around a dozen regulars and others who get involved on a more ad hoc basis for events such as our annual Memories and Memorabilia Day, and conducting interviews for our Heritage Lottery Funded Pool of Memories project.

We have an excellent relationship with the staff at Moseley Road Baths, not least manager Kishor (Dave) Flora and have generally found the local media to be supportive of the building and increasingly aware of its historical importance, both locally and nationally. There have been many highlights during our first five years, but celebrating Moseley Road Baths’ 100th birthday in October 2007 with a visit from the Lord Mayor and Lady Mayoress, establishing our online Virtual Tour and receiving a substantial grant from the Heritage Lottery Fund to research the building’s history, interview past and present MRB users and help local schoolchildren make films about the baths and their social history, are perhaps amongst the most memorable.

We’ve met some amazing people, such as octogenarian Philip Morris, who came back to undertake a fundraising swim at the baths in 2009, the first time he’d returned since the mid-1930s! Howard Edwards and Doris Gamble (he played in dance bands at the baths, she taught youngsters to swim) are two more who come to mind, Then there are the others, such as Celia Reeves of Anderton Park School, Val and Bron from Balsall Heath Local History Society, and Ian Dungavell of The Victorian Society as well as our friends at the wonderful Victoria Baths in Manchester. None are regular Moseley Road Baths swimmers, but all are both passionate about the building and understanding of its vital importance as a community swimming pool. And a special mention for Played in Britain series editor Simon Inglis and long-term Moseley Road Baths campaigner Selina Stewart – without their enthusiasm that first meeting would never have taken place.

We must also mention Cllr. Martin Mullaney, Birmingham City Council Cabinet Member for Leisure, Sport and Culture. Although the long-term future of Moseley Road Baths is not yet assured, Martin has proved to be a determined supporter of the baths and has battled sceptical colleagues who might have used the structural problems experienced at MRB this year as an excuse to close the building down for good.

Finally, and undoubtedly most important of all, are those Moseley Road Baths swimmers and bathers past and present who support our events, come on our tours, join our mailing list, follow our news on Facebook, Twitter and via our website, and who can’t wait for early 2012 when Moseley Road Baths once again re-opens for business.

The Friends of Moseley Road Baths will be holding a 5th Birthday/Christmas Party at the Old Moseley Arms in Tindal Street (off Edward Road), Balsall Heath from 8pm on Friday, December 9th 2011 – we hope to see as many of you there as possible.

Birmingham’s Lido heritage

Amidst talk of cutbacks and closures it’s easy to forget some of the fantastic municipal facilities that Birmingham has run in much harder economic times than those we face today. A recent discussion stemming from a photo of the Cannon Hill Bathing Pool on the Digital Balsall Heath site got a few of us discussing the number of Lidos, open air swimming pools, there used to be in Brum. Wouldn’t it be lovely to take a dip outdoors in this landlocked city?

So, following on from that, Steve Beauchampé has dug out a list of lidos in and around Birmingham over the years. Please let us know if you remember any of these!

Open Air Pools and Lidos in Birmingham and District

  • Brookvale Park, Park Road, Erdington (7th October 1909-1926)
  • Bournville Lido, Oak Farm Road, Bournville (2nd July 1937-c1972 demolished c1976; 1977-1987, demolished 1997) now housing
  • Bournville Men’s Open Baths, Linden Road (1898-c1936/7) now the Settling Pool
  • Cannon Hill Park Bathing Pool (1st September 1873; reconstructed 15th June 1921-1938)
  • Dartmouth Park, Devonshire Drive, West Bromwich (1887-)
  • Keeper’s Pool Lido, Sutton Park, Sutton Coldfield (June 30th 1887-1933; 1933-1961; 1961-March 2002) closed and demolished after fire, site now landscaped
  • Greswolde Lido/Pool – behind The Greswolde Hotel/Restaurant, High Street, Knowle, Solihull – now flats, (13th June 1936-cAug 1965)
  • Malvern Hall (or Park) Lido, Malvern Park, Solihull, opened (c1944-c September 1982) now overgrown/derelict
  • Shirley Sports Lido and Swimming Pool, Sansome Road, Shirley; (6th June 1936-1939) now offices
  • Small Heath Park Lido, Small Heath Park (aka Victoria Park) (9th July 1883; reconstructed 14th June 1922-1938)
  • Stechford Lido, Station Road, Stechford (August 1964-1991) now Cascades leisure pool (covered)
  • West Heath Lido (The Bath Tub), Aldridge Road, West Heath (1st July 1937-1940)

Goodbye to Moseley Road Methodist Church

Moseley Road Methodist Church closed its doors for the last time yesterday. Here Steve Beauchampé looks back at how the building has been so important to the Friends of Moseley Road Baths.

The closure of Moseley Road Methodist Church leaves yet another vacant building in what was once the bustling heart of Balsall Heath. For the Friends of Moseley Road Baths however the closure is particularly sad. Located directly opposite the Baths, the church has played host to several of our most important events. On November 27th 2006 it was the venue for the public meeting that lead to the group’s formation. Henceforth it hosted our monthly Committee meetings and our inaugural AGM. Those early Committee meetings are etched in the mind; we shared the building with a group of local ukelele players so our discussions were always set to music coming from the room next door!

Perhaps the most memorable event we staged at the church came on the afternoon of Tuesday October 30th 2007, with the Centenary Tea Dance that marked the 100th Birthday of Moseley Road Baths. Our special guests that day were the then Lord Mayor and Lady Mayoress, who followed a guided tour of the baths conducted by manager Dave Flora and members of the Friends by joining well over 100 of MRB’s supporters to eat cakes and sandwiches, dance and reminisce.

Pool of Memories Day

In June 2008 we gathered together around 80 representatives of interested groups for a seminar on the future of the Baths, chaired by architectural historian Simon Inglis (whose initial impetus had led to the formation of our group). Simon returned in 2009 for our annual Memories and Memorabilia Day where his superb illustrated talk on Britain’s historic indoor swimming pools enraptured an audience of around 100. The event was the second of our Memories and Memorabilia Days but doubts over the future of the venue contributed to the decision to switch last year’s event to the Balsall Heath Church Centre in Edward Road.

So goodbye to Moseley Road Methodist Church and a particular note of thanks to Nan for all the help she has given us. Let’s hope there’ll be a new Methodist church opening in Balsall Heath soon.

Moseley Road Methodist Church closes its doors

We’re very sad to hear that Moseley Road Methodist Church, opposite the Baths, will be closing its doors for good this weekend on the 15th May.

The Church was built after the previous Methodist Church on the site was destroyed in bombing raids in 1940.  There has been a Methodist Church on the site since 1872.  The Friends of Moseley Road Baths have used rooms within the building, as well as the Church Hall, to stage numerous events, including our Centenary Teadance, several Memories and Memorabilia Day events as well as regular committee and planning meetings.

However, for some years closure has been on the cards, and it is clear that the building needs investment.  We don’t know why the closure is happening now, or indeed what the plans are for the congregation or the site.  Let’s hope that positive things arise from this.

You can read more about the closure on the Balsall Heath Local History Society’s website (always worth a look on their site regardless!).  There will also be a number of events taking place this weekend, including a Church Service, a celebration and a display of the Church’s archives.  For more details please send an e-mail to rosaliemarsha93@hotmail.com.

Response from Andrew Hardie

Just as an update to our request for candidates in the local elections to send responses, we did in fact receive a handwritten letter from Andrew Hardie, the Conservative Candidate, a day after the election.  As with some of the other responses, it was supportive of the facility, he has memories of swimming at the Baths, and he would like to ‘preserve, and indeed, widen its use after discussion with the Council, local GPs and schools.’  Unfortunately he fails to answer several of the questions we put to him.

As an aside – if candidates do want their views known, it would be preferable to receive replies in a format that we could easily pop online, and in plenty of time before the election.  Just sayin’.

Investigating Leisure Trusts

It appears that many councillors and council officers within Birmingham City Council are keen to transfer leisure services within Birmingham, including all swimming pools into a ‘Leisure Trust’.  They are expected to vote on this in the coming months.

A Leisure Trust is essentially an independent body which will take the responsibility for providing the services that the council currently has a statutory duty to provide.  Many councils currently use this model (including neighbouring Sandwell).  Many reasons are cited for this, not least the ability to raise more funds that are currently unavailable to local authorities.

Andrew Brightwell has been doing some sterling investigative journalism over the past few months to find out why councils are so keen to pass responsibility over to Leisure Trusts, and whether the assumptions made about them are correct.  I really recommend having a read through his blog, Where Can We Swim? which has loads of well researched facts and figures, many specific to Birmingham.  His most recent post, Investigating Leisure Trusts: The real work starts now!! summarises just some of his research and calls on all of us to scrutinise the process that our local councillors and council officers are working on behind the scenes.

Friends of Moseley Road Baths have major misgivings about transferring services to a Trust.  These include the need to protect staff pay and conditions (one of the most valuable assets in any public service), maintain and improve standards, sensitively protect the fabric of the building and to commit to accessibility for all.

We also have concerns about the nature of any body taking over services.  Will they, for instance, invest any profits back into the service, can they be accountable and responsive to service users (whose taxes still pay for the service) and will we be able to put them under the same level of scrutiny as any other public body?  At the present time such trusts are exempt from the Freedom of Information Act – an anomaly that MP Tom Brake is trying to address.

So, what are your thoughts?  Is Councillor Mullaney presenting us with a quick fix which is too good to be true, or is the ‘Big Society’ vision of devolving power to trusts and community groups a sustainable, successful model for swimming pools that we should aspire to?  What questions should Friends of Moseley Road Baths be asking of the Council.  Is it maybe the case that this model could work for other pools, but not for a Grade II* listed building?  Oh, and please, please, take time to have a look at Andy’s site and leave your comments and questions!