National Lottery players make a splash at Moseley Road Baths

In the latest piece of good news for Moseley Road Baths, the National Lottery Heritage Fund has awarded development funding of £477,050 for a major restoration and development project at the Baths.

Developed by a ‘coalition of the willing’ led by the National Trust, the project promises to complete the transformation of Moseley Road Baths, creating the best local pool in the world, with a positive ripple effect across the community.

This first stage of National Lottery investment will allow the partnership to fully develop their ambitious £32m Diving In project, which by 2028 will return swimming to the Gala Pool for the first time in 25 years and adapt other spaces, including the old laundry and slipper baths, to host fitness and wellbeing classes, a gym, cultural and arts events.

It will also include the development of cultural programmes with Balsall Heath library, focusing on families and older people, to share cross-generational experiences of Balsall Heath and Moseley Road Baths, as well as learning for primary schools.

The funding will support the development of a Volunteering, Skills and Participation model with diverse opportunities to support activities and operations across the two buildings.

Located in the super diverse Balsall Heath area of the city, the Edwardian Baths – owned by Birmingham City Council – has an extraordinary story. Internationally important and loved by generations of Brummies, Moseley Road Baths is one of the oldest of only six Grade II* Listed baths in the country still open for public swimming and contains many original features such as 46 private washing cubicles (slipper baths), and the only surviving steam-heated drying racks in a British swimming pool.

Pooling expertise and determination, this unique ‘coalition of the willing’, led by the National Trust, has already made a big splash since coming together in 2017. Only a few years ago the building was due to be permanently closed because of rising costs and a seemingly impossible restoration challenge. Moseley Road Baths features on Historic England’s national Heritage at Risk Register and was include on the World Monuments Fund’s 2016 Watch List: many had written the Baths off as an unsolvable problem because of the scale and complexity of works needed to restore the building. Following an impassioned community-wide campaign led by the Friends of Moseley Road Baths, a coalition of local, national and international organisations came together to support local people and the City Council to change the fortunes of this very special place.

Against the odds, the community-operated Moseley Road Baths Charitable Incorporated Organisation (which took over running of the pool in 2018 from Birmingham City Council) has established a successful swimming and activity programme designed for residents. The CIO employs local people and is supported by around 60 volunteers, offering popular activities such as ‘chat and splash’ sessions, disabled swims, and all-women lifeguard training. 

In 2020, the City Council and Historic England kickstarted restoration work, unveiling the newly restored Gala Pool roof. It is hoped that this magnificent space in the heart of the building will be restored for swimming as part of the Diving In project. Fast forward to 2022, and a new phase of works has begun, funded by the Levelling Up Fund, Birmingham City Council, Historic England and World Monuments Fund. This work will address some of the most urgent capital repairs to the building, reinstate historical features at the baths and improve accessibility. 

The National Lottery investment will help achieve the full restoration and adaptation of MRB, bringing the whole building back into economic use as part of the long-term plan for the Baths to become a heritage-led wellbeing and cultural destination with swimming at its heart; it will be run with and for local people, and open to the world. The National Trust has worked with local people and organisations, and coalition partners to produce the proposals that caught the attention of the National Lottery Heritage Fund. 

Lucy Reid, Assistant Director at the National Trust (Midlands and East of England) said: “We are proud to be working as a ‘coalition of the willing’ with so many people and organisations who care so deeply about the Baths, and about creating a new, sustainable future for it.  We know that swimming is good for you. But we also believe that swimming in beauty – and in what will once again be a stunningly beautiful setting – is even better for you. It’s a constant source of amazement and joy to us just how many people have connections to the Baths – we call it ‘the seven degrees of Moseley Road Baths’. It’s a place that never fails to captivate those who visit for the first time. So we are thrilled that the National Lottery Heritage Fund shares this our belief and excitement in the future of this building and this community. It’s a bold statement of intent about Birmingham’s heritage and why it matters: these Baths were built as a demonstration of civic pride, and that’s what they will be once again for the City.

Cllr Mariam Khan, Cabinet Member for Health and Social Care at Birmingham City Council, said: “I’m so proud of the work done by so many organisations working together to breathe new life into this amazing building, though of course this project has always been about far more than this; it is a real community asset, run by and for local people but open to everyone. We are hugely grateful to the National Trust for their leadership of the coalition, and the skills, experience and resources that they and all of the coalition partners have brought, ensuring that one of our city’s most important heritage assets has a really bright future.” 

Viv Harrison, General Manager for Moseley Road Baths, said “Moseley Road Baths has been at the heart of the Balsall Heath community for 115 years. It’s wonderful that we’ve been able to come together with other organisations who share a love of this beautiful Grade II* listed building, to champion our local heritage and secure it for future generations. This grant has come out of decades of campaigning by the local community to keep the pool open for swimming, and we couldn’t be more excited about the future!”

Historic England’s Regional Director Midlands, Louise Brennan, said: “Moseley Road Baths has been a key Heritage at Risk project for us for some time now and we’re so keen to see this special building’s future secured. We have provided many years of technical advice and expertise, project support and several grants to ensure this. We’re delighted this latest award could lead to the baths offering more community space.”