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September 24, 2008

Govanhill community refuse to give up fight for swimming pool

Seven years ago, local people staged a 140 day sit-in of the Govanhill Swimming Pool after Glasgow City Council took the decision to close it. Since then the building has lain empty and unused. Last weekend, teams of volunteers opened its doors again as part of Glasgow’s Open Doors Day to launch a campaign to raise awareness of the building’s redevelopment potential. They now hope to raise the funds to bring this fine old Edwardian bath house back into use


For 140 days it was occupied by activists desperate to keep life in an old Edwardian bathhouse that had served generations of a Glasgow community. Then, for seven years, all fell quiet at the Govanhill Baths, with pigeons and a growing array of weeds the only patrons of the listed building.

That was until yesterday, when the landmark re-opened its doors to hundreds of curious visitors as part of a city-wide doors open day.

Glasgow City Council announced the closure of Govanhill Baths, a B-listed building, in 2001. Now, campaigners hope the time is ripe for its renaissance and that funding can be secured to reopen the landmark in 2011.

Volunteers were yesterday running tours of the derelict building to raise awareness of the potential it holds for redevelopment, that could cost as much as £9m.

Many of the guides were veterans of the occupation, that ran between March and August, 2001, and some described their return to the building as an emotional experience.
Danny Alderslowe, now representing the Scottish Green Party on Glasgow City Council, was one of the original activists on the 2001 campaign.

Showing his three-year-old son round the centre yesterday, he said: “It’s my first time back in the building since 2001, and it is quite a poignant time. I was here every day for nearly eight months, and we were sleeping in here too.

“Today it feels like we’re really on the path to getting the baths re-opened. We’re getting a lot of interest from the council officers, and loads of people have been turning out to visit all day.

“There are some seriously bad health statistics in the area, and we need this place re-opened yesterday. It would be a great social place for all the different nationalities in the area to meet up as well.”
Underlying the campaign to re-open the facility is the desire to protect and display one of Glasgow’s little-known architectural treasures. Designed by Scottish architect Alexander Beith McDonald, who also worked on the People’s Palace, the Govanhill Baths are a rare example of the Edwardian Baroque style.

Original tiling and doors are still evident in some parts of the building, which opened in 1917, and the cast iron railed gallery around the main pool is one of the baths’ most distinctive details.

Fatima Uygun, director of the Govanhill Baths Community Trust (GBCT), stressed the importance of preserving the building and its features for the people of Glasgow.
She said: “They are the only remaining Edwardian baths in Glasgow. Edinburgh has kept theirs, but it seems like we were considered unworthy in Glasgow. These baths had been open for more than 80 years before they shut. How can you not want a building like this in the community?”
Local residents mourned the loss of the baths in 2001 as a blow to the local community, with alternative facilities in the Gorbals and Holyrood areas too far for many to travel.

Cathy Wotherspoon, taking a tour with her 10-year-old grand-daughter, said she would look forward to the baths re-opening if funds could be found.

She said: “We used to come here for exercise classes before it shut, and it’s my first time back since 2001. It’s a bit lonely, seeing how badly it’s decayed since then.

“The closure had a definite impact on the area – it takes a good 45 minutes for me to get to Tollcross for classes now, because I’ve to get a bus into town and then another one out.”

The GBCT is working with a number of bodies to secure funding, including Glasgow City Council, the Big Lottery, Glasgow Buildings Preservation Trust, Architectural Heritage Fund and the Scottish Community Foundation.
Estimates for the refurbishment range from £7.5m to £9m, that would see the centre revamped as a state of the art leisure and health centre.

Facilities would include three pools, a gym, a roof garden and an asthma clinic, all powered by a ground source heat pump, that could also provide heat to local tenements.
Organisers of the funding drive yesterday highlighted the impact the centre could have on the area’s health.
Ms Uygun said: “The health benefits to the community would be massive, so though £9m may seem a lot, it would actually make more financial sense than people realise.”