Public Meeting on Sparkhill Baths redevelopment

A public meeting to detail progress and gauge opinion on the redevelopment of Sparkhill Baths takes place next Tuesday, July 26th (7pm) at Sparkhill Cultural Centre, Stratford Road (next door to the existing baths building). The meeting is organised by the Save Our Swimming campaign group and the panel will include Councillor Martin Mullaney, Birmingham City Council Cabinet member for Leisure, Sport and Culture.

Sparkhill Baths - pre-closure
Sparkhill Baths - pre-closure

Sparkhill Pool and Fitness Centre closed in July 2008 following the discovery of asbestos in the swimming pool hall, but a surveyor’s report subsequently uncovered serious structural problems and, following a public consultation process in spring 2010, a decision was taken to demolish the existing structure, which dates from 1931 and is locally listed Grade ‘B’, and build a replacement along similar lines to that currently being erected in Harborne.

A recent Hall Green Constituency meeting agreed to support proposals taken by the Council Cabinet to hand the running of the new facility to the private sector, although the building would remain publicly owned (a similar arrangement will be implemented at Harborne when that facility opens in late 2011 or early 2012).

Local councillors, council officers and Hall Green MP Roger Godsiff have all been invited to attend but with the new building not expected to open until 2014 at the earliest, and the detailed design and specification still to be determined, there remains plenty of scope for public input.

This article first appeared in the Birmingham Press on July 20th 2011

Decisions on Sparkhill Baths Rebuilding

Tonight a discussion on the rebuilding of Sparkhill Pool and Fitness Centre will take place at the Hall Green Constituency Committee. We would encourage all regular swimmers and gym users to attend to ensure that their views are taken into account at what could be a very important meeting in deciding who rebuilds, finances and manages the new facility.

The procurement will be presented in full at this meeting. Amongst the options is Option 4: Design, build, operate and maintain by an external contractor.  This clearly has ramifications for the way our leisure services are funded and managed.  Both the Sparkhill Baths group and FoMRB have major misgivings about the role of the private sector in the city’s leisure services.

The meeting details are:

Venue: Kings Heath Primary School, Valentine Road, Kings Heath, Birmingham B14

Date and Time: Tuesday 28th June, 7pm

Agenda notes can be found at:

Sparkhill Baths to be rebuilt

News has just been released that the bulldozers will soon be going into Sparkhill Pool and Leisure Centre.  The pool will be rebuilt, and the building and running of the new building will be put out to tender to private companies – something that the group formed to save the building expressed concern about over the course of a number of meetings with councillors and during the consultation.

Here is the link to the article announcing the news – we’ll be inviting members of the Sparkhill user group to comment in the next few days.

Demonstrate this Saturday!

Birmingham City Council has been spearheading efforts by local authorities to slash local budgets and open services up to the private sector.  A huge chunk of this will affect frontline services.

At the Friends of Moseley Road Baths we’re concerned that public swimming facilities across Birmingham will be transferred into the private sector and effectively run by Trusts.  We believe that this jeopardises the long-term future of the building as a swimming facility and may affect accessibility.

As such we will be joining with local residents, council workers, community groups and trade unions on Saturday to demonstrate against the cuts.  Everyone will be gathering from noon in St Philips Square.  We’ll be there with a banner, so please do come and join us!

There is more information on the Birmingham Against the Cuts website, along with a whole host of reasons why you should get involved.

Stop the Cuts demo

Happy 150th Birthday Woodcock Street

FoMRB campaigner Steve Beauchampé has penned this article for Woodcock Street Baths’ 150th anniversary. It originally appeared in The Stirrer.

Woodcock Street Baths in Gosta Green first opened in August 1860 and there’s been public swimming at the location ever since. Steve Beauchampé reports on the history of Birmingham’s oldest operational swimming pool complex on the occasion of its 150th birthday.

Birmingham’s second municipal baths complex, at Woodcock Street in the Gosta Green district of Aston, first opened to the public on August 27th 1860 (the baths at Kent Street having preceded some nine years earlier). Designed by Edmund Holmes of Temple Row – one of eighteen architectural practices to submit designs – the complex cost £12,378 10s 6d and consisted of one Second Class swimming pool measuring an ample 78ft x 34ft 6in, two small plunge baths and 46 private washing (or ‘slipper’) baths, of which 32 were reserved for men and 14 for women. The building itself was functional, with little of the aesthetic flourish that would come to symbolise municipal buildings by the late-Victorian period. As was common practice at the time, there were three public entrances (Men’s First Class, Men’s Second Class and Women’s), class and gender segregation of corporation bathing establishments being the norm. By 1876 the plunge baths had been replaced by a First Class Pool, measuring a modest 38ft x 14ft.

In such a densely populated inner city district as Gosta Green was in Victorian Birmingham, with back-to-back housing (most, if not all, of it lacking bathrooms and running water) and a hive of small industries, the public baths inevitably became a vital and essential institution. Some time before 1900 a public laundry was added to Woodcock Street’s inventory of facilities but it would not be until 1902 that the building in its current form began to take shape.

The 1860 swimming pool was demolished, replaced with a new First Class Pool, measuring 81ft x 30ft. with 54 poolside glazed brick dressing cubicles and a small viewing gallery at the eastern end which doubled as a bandstand. The work of F.W. Lloyd and built by John Bowen and Sons of Balsall Heath, Woodcock Street’s 1902 extension cost £11,000.

In common with other Birmingham public baths (and throughout Britain), the winter months saw at the pool boarded over and used for social events, organised by the city’s Social Institutes Committee. While Woodcock Street staged the more traditional roster of talks, lectures and dances, in 1914 and 1915 the pool hall was converted for use as a rifle range!

But it was in 1926, as attendance figures at Birmingham pools reached then record levels, that Woodcock Street Baths was transformed, via a major reconstruction and expansion programme, into what is in essence the building that stands today. Arthur McKewan’s extension included a Gala Pool (100ft x 35ft) with tiered seating for up to 1,100 spectators, a removable six-stage diving platform and demountable dressing boxes. There were an additional seventeen private washing baths, a new public steam laundry, a café, and an impressive entrance hall with marble flooring, oak joinery, white tiled bricks and a domed lantern roof. To facilitate this, all remaining vestiges of the pre-1902 building were demolished, including the landmark ventilation tower.

The laundry (used today as a fitness gym) was one of the largest of its kind in Britain, handling towels and linen from each of the city’s bathing establishments. 32,000 towels (measuring 21 miles in length) were washed, sterilized, dried, ironed and folded on a normal summer day.

The new Gala Pool was a favoured venue for Amateur Swimming Authority organised international and championship events, including the Bologna Trophy (featuring England, Scotland and Wales). In winter months it was boarded over and hosted events such as boxing, with a spectator capacity (standing and seated) of around 1,900. One of Woodcock Street’s most notable non-swimming events occurred in February 1936 when a session of a snooker match between world champion Joe Davis and the Australian superstar Walter Lindrum attracted a then world record attendance of approximately 1,100.

Although substantial modernisation work took place during the winter of 1948/9, by the late 1970s, with Gosta Green’s back-to-backs long since gone and Birmingham’s inner city population dwindled to a fraction of what it had once been, Woodcock Street Baths, like those at Kent Street a couple of years earlier, was considered surplus to municipal requirements. Demolition could easily have been its fate, but then in 1980 the University of Aston, whose campus had grown on the site of all those neighbouring Victorian houses and small industrial premises, stepped in to take over the building.

Converting the Gala Pool into a sports hall, the private washing baths into changing rooms, the laundry into a fitness gym and renaming the building Woodcock Sports Centre, the University has – often against the odds – kept the building not just open, but thriving. With public access (i.e. it’s not just the preserve of students) the pool hall of 1902 has remained in daily use and still boasts many of its original features (including the glazed brick poolside cubicles, a feature it shares with only one other British pool – Moseley Road Baths in Balsall Heath). Listed Grade II by English Heritage, Woodcock Sports Centre is soon to undergo a £5m refurbishment programme to ensure the building can continue to serve the students of Aston and citizens of Birmingham for many years to come. There’s even hope that some of the original features lost or just covered over down the years might be re-installed.

So Happy 150th Birthday Woodcock Street Baths!

Online Sparkhill Consultation

Further to last week’s consultation events, there is now an online survey on facilities at Sparkhill Pool and Fitness Centre. You can take the online survey here.

It’s very disappointing that the public seem to have no say in who should manage the facility, especially as this will have an impact on one of the most important assets that local leisure services have: the staff.  I spoke with a local council leisure employee only yesterday who doesn’t know whether or not they’ll be in a job in two months time.  If the Council are serious about providing high quality health and fitness facilities they need to put such concerns at the heart of the plans.  This narrow-minded approach certainly doesn’t bode well for developing other leisure sites around the city…

Sparkhill Consultation

As part of the Council’s ongoing plans for replacing Sparkhill Pool and Fitness Centre they have called a series of consultations for this week.  So far it appears that consultations have not had any mention of how the building should be financed and managed, something which campaigners over in Sparkhill believe is absolutely fundamental to the kind of facility they end up with, and how it will be maintained.  Councillor Mullaney is firmly in favour of a Private Public Partnership scheme, where finance and management will come from ‘Pulse Fitness’.  But is this really what’s best for the facility and for the public?  Either way, head along to one of the consultations and see if you can get some answers… and let us know how it goes!

Bulldozers head to Coseley Baths

We’re really saddened to report that the bulldozers have begun work on demolishing the community pool in Coseley, despite the demolition work actually costing more than the money spent on the building over the past ten years!

Campaigners have fought a long, hard battle against the closure, arguing that the baths are still well used by the community, and the distance to other pools is simply too far away.  They have collected over 9,000 signatures, recorded a campaign song and have regularly held demonstrations and stalls to raise awareness of the need for community swimming.

Community Pools across the country are paying the price of years of poor maintenance and upkeep, with Councils taking the easy option of closing them and selling off the land.  In November at our Memories and Memorabilia Day, historian Simon Inglis spoke eloquently about the growth of swimming and bathing facilities across Victorian Britain in response to the need for safe, clean and inclusive swimming provision.  We really have a fight on our hands to ensure that a generation of children don’t grow up without learning this important life skill.  Let’s hope that both central and local government rise to the challenge.

Sparkhill Residents Reject PFI Swimming Pool Proposals

Sparkhill residents last night unanimously rejected proposals for a PFI-funded swimming pool on the Moseley School site in Springfield Road. Steve Beauchampé reports on a highly charged meeting (This article also appears on The Stirrer website).

A public meeting of Sparkhill residents last night unanimously rejected proposals for a PFI-funded swimming pool on the Moseley School site in Springfield Road to replace the former pool on Stratford Road, which closed in July 2008 after 77 years of service owing to major structural defects.

The meeting, organised by the Save Sparkhill Baths campaign group, was attended by around 80 residents, Councillors and Council officials following news that private sector firm Pulse Fitness (who already run many gymnasiums on city council leisure sites) had offered to build and operate a new pool for the district in return for an initial £3m of public investment.

But after 90 minutes of what at times was a messy and rowdy meeting, a straw poll of residents voted unanimously in favour of the promised replacement facilities being located on the site of the current pool, adjacent to Sparkhill Park, in what many regard as the civic heart of Sparkhill.

Council Cabinet member for Leisure, Sport and Culture Martin Mullaney came under fire for appearing to favour the Pulse proposals, finding himself isolated with not one member of the audience supporting the proposal, and even fellow Liberal Democrat Councillor Jerry Evans cautioning against the plans.

Evans, who together with Respect Party Leader Salma Yaqoob, are contesting the Hall Green Constituency at the forthcoming General Election, were keen to distance themselves from what was clearly an unpopular proposal. They were joined in their opposition by Labour’s Roger Godseiff, the sitting MP. Mullaney however, as an elected council official, is legally obliged to give detailed consideration to Pulse’s intervention though there is little doubt that their plans hold for him the significant attraction of allowing the city to deliver a rebuilt Sparkhill Pool and undertake essential refurbishment works to re-open the Gala Pool at the Grade II* Moseley Road Baths in Balsall Heath within the £15m allocated to the two Hall Green Constituency projects by the Council’s Cabinet last October.

However, concerns, including the Springfield Road location, the loss of community control over public facilities, the absence of a learner pool in the Pulse proposals and ideological arguments over PFI schemes led the meeting to express support for one of the more expensive options, either a six-lane pool, 60 station gym, sauna and dance studio (costed at £13.1m) or a four-lane pool, learner pool, 30 station gym, sauna and dance studio (£10.9m).

Mullaney meets Pulse Fitness for the first time today (Thursday) to look at their plans in detail, though it is already known that their proposal would involve a six-lane pool with moveable floor, an 80 station gym, sauna and dance studio. School usage would be prioritised during weekdays (as is currently the case at most Birmingham pools) however a separate entrance would allow public access to the site (which also includes a sports hall and floodlit pitches – though these are not part of the PFI proposals). The meeting heard that the city council would continue to set the tariffs for public use of the new centre’s facilities but would be expected to meet an anticipated shortfall in running costs (which includes a fee payable to Pulse for operating the centre) of £228,000 per annum. If given the green light, the pool would be operational by 2013.

Mullaney pledged full public consultation once talks with Pulse had been concluded and the final details of their proposals established, telling the meeting that public opinion would be “a very strong factor in our final decision.” The exact format and timescale of any public consultation exercise is yet to be determined but, Mullaney stated, would be conducted by Sparkhill Ward officials.

Steve Beauchampé

United against PFI scheme

At the Friends of Moseley Road Baths meeting with Cllr Mullaney on 21st January we discussed options for funding swimming provision in Hall Green Constituency.  Three options have been put on the table for the urgent work required to ensure that Sparkhill has swimming facilities.  Two of these involve building new swimming facilities on the current site, with costs estimated at £10m and £13m respectively.  A third involves a PFI pool at Moseley School as part of their new sports and leisure facilities which has been costed at £3m.

The big-sell on this is that the less Council money spent on Sparkhill the more money will be available to re-open Moseley Road Bath’s Gala Pool.

We welcome plans to re-open Moseley Road Baths’ Gala Pool and fully support the Friends of Sparkhill Baths’ calls to ensure that swimming facilities are provided in Sparkhill as soon as possible.  However, we are fully behind the Friends of Sparkhill Baths in their opposition to the PFI model for our public swimming facilities.  We also agree that Sparkhill Pool should remain on its current site, whether that means utilising the facade of the existing pool or rebuilding on the Stratford Road site.

You can read more about the plans and politics around it on The Stirrer website – here and here.  In the meantime we are urging Cllr Mullaney and council officers to ensure that consultation and decisions around the future of swimming provision at both Sparkhill and Moseley Road Baths are transparent and accountable.  Our local pools are in such a dire state because of years of short-term planning, lack of proper investment and politicking.  Let’s ensure that good quality provision, accessibility and the needs of the immediate community are put at the heart of new plans.

There will be a meeting at 6.45pm on Wednesday 3rd February at Sparkhill Social and Cultural Centre on Stratford Rd, next to the swimming baths for all those interested in the plans.  Cllr Mullaney has decided not to attend the meeting, but it is hoped that he will reverse this decision and use the opportunity to speak directly with the public on this issue.

NB. We have since learnt that Cllr Mullaney WILL be attending this meeting.