BGL has been an supporter of the community ownership of Bramley Baths since the idea was – aha – floated. We’re proud to present the story of how it all happened right here, and will be there on Jan 1st to enjoy a dip in a pool owned by the people.
On 1st January 2013, we’re opening the doors to a new era at Bramley Baths. When I say we, I mean a community of people, many based here in West Leeds but not exclusively, some as old as 6, some as young as 86, who have championed a cause with huge commitment and masses of creativity. For the last eighteen months, we’ve been working together to plan a community business; raising funds and recruiting a professional team. We’ve worked through a number of complicated problems together, we’ve laughed, agreed, disagreed and found ourselves here now, ready to take the keys to the building. For eighteen months, we’ve held onto a belief that if enough people use and support the baths we can be there to nurture the next generation of Olympic athletes, to give busy adults a chance to exercise; to provide an affordable, secular, social space for all comers.
The Friends of Bramley Baths came out of various public meetings initiated by West Leeds MP Rachel Reeves and Councillor Ted Hanley. We spent 6 months rigorously mapping how to manage, maintain and grow a leisure centre as a not for profit community enterprise. We researched, crunched numbers, talked to customers, drew on the experience of the Council’s leisure team and visited two community leisure centres in Sheffield & Nottingham for their invaluable advice. We looked at the model very carefully. Swimming pools look innocent, but they are complex things to run and a challenge to make profitable – ask anyone in the industry. But we also knew, that this was more than a pool; more than a gym or a steam room
Bramley Baths has been around since 1904 and is full of Edwardian elegance – colourful original cubicles line the pool, sinewy iron railings frame the balcony and the original foundry chimney made from 8000 bricks from Kirkstall pokes at the sky. Spend any time here and you’ll see that beyond very beautiful building, are the people that use it. It genuinely is a place where people know your name.
Almost every weekday morning, a group of 5 lads meet in the pool for a swim and a chat. When I say lads, they’re some of the longest serving patrons of this Edwardian bath-house. Some of the lads learnt to swim here. They’re aged between 75-82 years. If you jump in the pool alongside them, be ready for a right good conversation.
The friendliness amongst the customers and staff at Bramley Baths is very pronounced. People come to keep their bodies and brains dextrous. They come for conversations & to keep up with friends, making new ones along the way. And each week thousands of children learn to swim here, developing their confidence in the water.
In May 2012, our proposal and business plan received a positive response from Leeds City Council, and we began the serious hard work of transferring Bramley Baths. From 1st January, you may be hard pressed to notice the differences on first glance. You’ll walk through familiar doors to the oak-panelled reception kiosk, jump on the treadmill or in the pool. Some of the staff will be new but all, under the guidance of our energetic new manager Danny Whiteley, are committed to helping people exercise safely and enjoyably.
The main differences will be that the baths is now held in trust for the community for the next 25 years, managed by an Independent Provident Society called Bramley Baths & Community Ltd. This means we are a social enterprise and company limited by shares. We’ve begun to explore the timetables and programme, to relax prices where we can and make it more affordable to come here more often. Longer opening hours, to accommodate people’s busy complicated lives is a longer term aim, and we’re keen to see the spaces used creatively – for events, music, art and more…
Some people like to bring in the New Year with a cool dip in the North Sea. At noon on 1st January, we’re going to plunge into the warm waters of the pool together in our fanciest dress and start a new tradition. Come and join us. Everyone’s welcome.
Everyone’s welcome here.