While the attention is focused on the sporting events and regeneration of the east end of Glasgow with the 2014 Commonwealth Games, in Govanhill in the south side of Glasgow another regeneration project is underway, this time the rebirth of a much-loved local and historic landmark, the Govanhill Baths. The Baths were opened 100 years ago in July 1914 at a cost, including site purchase, of £13,000 and provided three swimming pools, sauna and Turkish suites. The baths served the local community well but, despite local opposition, Glasgow City Council planned to close them in March 2001 arguing that repairs would cost around £750,000 and that they were “well past their sell by date”.
There were local demonstrations, pickets and an occupation by supporters of the Baths with a campaign to “save our baths” for over two years until in January 2005 the Govanhill Baths Charitable Trust was established and formally lodged its interest with the Council to convert the baths into a Health and Wellbeing Centre. It was allowed to submit a first Draft Business Plan and it appointed NORD architects to carry out a feasibility study with financial support from the Big Lottery, the Architectural Heritage Fund, Scottish Community Foundation and the Royal Institute of British Architects. While work develops to obtain the funding for the full refurbishment, the baths are used for a number of arts, cultural and other events, including working with visual artist Alex Wilde who, in a voluntary capacity, developed creative projects around the history of the Govanhill Baths and the campaign to bring it back into use as a Wellbeing Centre for the whole community.
“I was inspired to get involved as a local resident and an artist, seeing the potential of the building as a social and creative hub for the area as well as somewhere to swim, which is sorely needed. It is a stunning Edwardian building, substantially unaltered in the heart of an incredibly mixed and very densely populated area. The building for me is not derelict but charged with a ten year history of a tenacious and passionate campaign to keep it open to the community.”
A major milestone was achieved in February 2012 with the opening of the front part of the building as offices and funding support announced around the same time from Historic Scotland, enabling the next phase of work to be progressed. The proposals for the next stage include the reinstatement of the learners’ pool, the ladies’ pool, the sauna and Turkish suite and the installation of a cafe, an arts suite and a greenhouse garden.
Andrew Johnson who has led the fight to retain the Baths in community use said “There is a great sense of relief and of achievement that we’ve managed to get this far – there has been so much support and work from so many people over the years. The Govanhill community’s return to the baths is the result of 11 years of hard work and commitment by many people in Govanhill, the Trust and the Friends of Govanhill Baths.’
Photographer Graham Clark has recorded the baths as they were during the period when they were closed and David Levene has been recording their renaissance, with some of his pictures published in The Guardian earlier this year.
Well done for this fantastic achievement. I spent many happy hours swimming and diving in the pool as a boy, and found it depressing driving past the empty and derelict building when I visited Glasgow, with plants sprouting from the stonework. With the 2014 Commonwealth Games giving a boost to sport and wellbeing, hopefully the funding will be found to complete the phased renaissance of this building which is both part of Glasgow’s heritage and a much-loved community asset.