There are only three Grade II* listed swimming baths in the country still in use for public swimming and of these Birmingham’s Moseley Road Baths, an Edwardian time capsule which first opened its doors to the public in 1907, is the oldest. It has been saved as a result of a determined community action campaign and is now operated under license by a Charitable Incorporated Organisation (CIO).
Many of the iconic original Edwardian features of the baths remain intact — its private washing rooms with baths (in use until 2004), original oak ticket offices and attendants’ kiosks, a three sided spectator gallery, and possibly the only surviving example of steam-heated drying racks in a British swimming pool.
But the building has been under threat of closure for decades due to underfunding and the scale of ongoing maintenance. Major structural problems saw the Gala Pool close in August 2003, but it was the local authority’s decision to shut the building entirely in March 2017 that galvanised the Moseley Road Baths Action Group’s campaign to save the baths and prevent local swimming being lost forever.
The coalition of organisations working together to save the baths includes Friends of Moseley Road Baths, Moseley Road Baths Action Group, Historic England (which has made grant of almost £660,000 for urgent repairs to the roof of the Gala Pool), the National Trust and the World Monuments Fund.
A successful application to the Bright Ideas Fund enabled the group to engage approved business consultants Development in Social Enterprise CIC (DISE) which had previously assisted Castle Vale Library and Castle Vale Pool move into community management.
DISE has worked with the group to develop a viable proposal to keep swimming open at Moseley Road Baths using a part-staffed and part-volunteer model which was already working at Castle Vale Pool and community-run leisure facilities.
The business plan formed the basis of discussions with Birmingham City Council which subsequently saw the newly formed Moseley Road Baths CIO secure a licence to operate from 1st April 2018.
The chair of Moseley Road Baths CIO, Karen Leach says, “DISE’s experience of assisting similar community enterprises within Birmingham gave us the confidence that we had an achievable business plan that would satisfy the Council’s requirements and ensure that our greatly valued local heritage swimming facility remains for the benefit of local people.”
DISE’s continuing advice and support led to additional funding being secured to help make the business plan operational, including recruiting volunteers, further fundraising, training lifeguards and promoting and marketing the baths to users.
Around 50 volunteers and nine staff members now manage the pool, which is open seven days a week and used by the community, schools and swimming clubs. It is envisaged that after three years the facility will be operating at full capacity, producing an annual surplus and reaching around 20,000 local residents.
Dave Lane, Managing Director of DISE said: “Safeguarding swimming at this magnificent building will increase the likelihood of wider investment to develop this community asset for future generations, and further demonstrates the power of community-led partnerships to save local services.”
Birmingham City Council is continuing to invest in the service while a longer-term solution for the site is developed by the Moseley Road Baths coalition. This important historic sports venue is now — against all the odds — expected to feature in the cultural programming for Birmingham’s hosting of the 2022 Commonwealth Games.
Since April 2018, 4,200 school children have learnt to swim at the baths, almost 10,000 swimmers have used the pool and 40 volunteers have been recruited and trained.
If anyone ever doubted what can be achieved by new forms of community-based social enterprise and resident action, they should look to the example of the 102-year old Moseley Road Baths.