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An Endangered Community Pool

Moseley Road Baths, located in central Birmingham in an area called Balsall Heath, first opened in 1907. The Victorian building reflects outstanding architectural and social significance, yet its future is not guaranteed—it is scheduled to close in May 2017.

The site was constructed at a time when Birmingham city leaders sought to improve the lives of working class people through developments in public infrastructure and the creation of educational and recreational institutions. As the homes of working class people typically did not include bathing facilities, the washing baths at Mosely Road were built for residents of the area. Two swimming pools were also built. All facilities were open to the public, though segregated by gender and class, as was the standard at the time.

Sadly, years of underfunding and neglect in building maintenance and facilities upgrades have caused significant deterioration and have contributed to just one pool remaining open. The magnificent Gala Pool has been closed for twelve years, and the washing baths were closed in 2004. In the last four years, the leaking roof has accelerated structural damage to the ornate iron work and general fabric of the building.

For the last ten years, a local organization called the Friends of Moseley Road Baths has been campaigning to keep the building open for swimming. Each year, the Friends host a number of events to promote the importance of this historic building to a wider audience. A “Hidden Spaces” event in June 2016, which allowed visitors to see parts of the building normally closed to the public, attracted 225 visitors. Upcoming events include an open day in September to celebrate Birmingham Heritage Week, and a World Monuments Watch Day in October.

Currently, Birmingham City Council has no plans to retain the building—for swimming or any other function—when it closes in 2017. With funds from Historic England, the National Trust and Princes Regeneration Trust are exploring options for the continued use of the building, but the projected costs to restore and upgrade the building—both necessary for a sustainable future—run into the tens of millions of pounds.

 

Image top: The Gala Pool, unused for over a decade, 2013