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Diving In

March 28, 2024

Over a decade of campaigning to save Moseley Road Baths culminated in the formation of Moseley Road Baths CIO which took over the operation in 2018. This ensured that much-needed restoration work would take place and our beloved Baths would stay open for swimming (and other things) for years to come. The future of Moseley Road Baths was secured – but what exactly would that future look like? That is the question which the Diving In project sought to answer.

Made possible by the National Lottery Heritage Fund, the Diving In project was made up of four pilot schemes – Slipper Baths, Balsall Heath’s Living Room, Young Curators, and Exchange Festival – each of which aimed to explore what Moseley Road Baths could offer our local communities, and the wider Birmingham population, beyond the expected swimming-based activities.

Throughout 2023, our four Diving In pilot schemes looked at how our historic building could draw upon it’s heritage to become a destination for co-creation and belonging. As this phase of the project comes to a close, let’s take a look back at what we have achieved so far…


Slipper Baths

At the beginning of 2020, scaffolding was covering the front of Moseley Road Baths due to restoration works being done on the roof of the Gala Pool. As a result this, as well as other factors including repeated temporary closures and the ever-present threat of permanent closure, many people thought that our building was closed. We started with a bang to counteract this misconception, opening two of our pilot schemes launched on the same day. Balsall Heath’s Living Room and the Slipper Baths opened on July the 1st, kicking off a busy Summer season.

Our historic slipper baths hadn’t been open for public use since October 2004, long before most of our current team joined Moseley Road Baths. There was a lot to do as we considered all of the details we could implement to make the experience of taking a bath at MRB as safe, accessible and enjoyable as possible; centring the idea of ‘necessary luxury’. For example, a bluetooth mirror with a speaker was installed to let bathers decide what they listened to. While we couldn’t control all of the background noise (the dull hum of traffic from Moseley Road reminded our guests that there was a busy world outside that they didn’t have to engage with right now), we wanted visitors to have a sense of agency when it came to how they chose to enjoy their bath. 

The grand return of our slipper baths was a sell-out success. Whether they came to indulge their passion for heritage architecture, because they didn’t have a bath at home, or to experience something a little unusual, we welcomed 35 bathers into our historic slipper baths. We took great pride in being able to bring a key aspect of our heritage back to life and infuse it with a contemporary sense of serenity.


Balsall Heath’s Living Room

Also opening it’s doors at the beginning of the Summer, Balsall Heath’s Living Room took up residence in the emptied Gala Pool of Moseley Road Baths. Complete with sofas, rugs, books, games and even a giant TV, our Living Room aimed to offer the same level of comfort and relaxation that you would experience in your own lounge. Anyone was welcome to enjoy our free communal space; whether they popped in for a quick hot drink or put their feet up for the afternoon to enjoy all of the swim-themed animations being screened.

Balsall Heath’s Living Room was used for social gatherings, talks and screenings too, as well as our weekly Moseley Road Baths Alive activities which included floristry, tai chi and (everyone’s favourite Friday afternoon dance session) Discotheque. Our once empty Gala Pool was now filled with activity as people of all ages ate, danced, played, shared stories and created memories together.

We stayed open (almost) every day between the start of July and end of September, welcoming in 4,121 guests. Along the way, the space ignited conversations about our local communities, their habits, interests and passions, as well as the barriers they face when accessing public buildings and how these can be broken down. All of this information – alongside all of our learning from the Diving In pilots – have been documented will inform the next phase of activities at Moseley Road Baths when we reopen.

Balsall Heath’s Living Room was particularly popular with our LGBTQ+ plus audiences. Artist Beth Steventon-Crinks hosted an exhibition inspired by the visual archives of Moseley Shoals, a queer swimming group who have been using our pool since 2000. We gathered loads of positive feedback about the exhibition and program of events which coincided, with audience members remarking that they now saw Moseley Road Baths as a space for queer events. Heritage-led projects like our as all about who you invite along for the journey and we’re proud to facilitate the celebration of the LGBTQ+ community, past and present.


Young Curators

As Balsall Heath’s Living Room and our Slipper Baths were getting started over the Summer, our Young Curators had already formed and were busy plotting wonderful things behind the scenes. Through an open call, we found six bright local young people who came on board as paid curators. Over the course of six months, they took part in professional development workshops, investigated our archives, threw ideas around in brainstorming sessions, and led consultations as they worked towards a final digital output of their choosing.

The idea behind our Young Curators project was to offer young people a paid opportunity with agency (something there is often a lack of with the promise of responsibility of the future looming over) which would help them develop skills in the growing medium of digital content. Beyond this, there was no set final goal for what the project looked like; the final output was entirely up to the curators. After much discussion, they chose to create Bathcasts – a podcast hosted by comedian Rachel Baker which featured six people associated with Moseley Road Baths being interviewed while inside a slipper bath filled with water. Their innovative podcast gained over 250 listeners on Spotify and is available to listen to as a complete series here. 

Working alongside creative producer Gaby Songui and digital mentor John Sear, the Young Curators proved themselves to be incredibly professional, imaginative and determined. They went above and beyond, producing a short documentary about what they got up to during the project (which you can watch on YouTube here). Young Curators was the longest running of our pilot schemes, coming to a close in November as we toasted their brilliant accomplishments durings a night of live music, spoken word and poetry marking the release of Bathcasts. Just as they chose the outcome of the project, they have also determined it’s legacy; proving that young people create brilliant and inventive things when they are given the time, space and resources to do so. Never underestimate the power of opportunity.


Exchange Festival

While the others looked primarily at Moseley Road Baths, our final pilot scheme explored what the future of Balsall Heath Library could look like. The first stage of the project saw the creation of an interactive sculpture which then became the stage for a series of inclusive theatre performances for children and their families. We consulted with Balsall Heath CATS, a group which helps local children and young people with disabilities have social inclusion through play in Balsall Heath, as well as local SEND schools to learn how we could centre the sculpture and performances around kids with disabilities. 

The sculpture, playfully named “Loop the Loop”, was co-designed with Intervention Architecture and Dual Works and earned a place on the longlist for a RIBA Journal MacEwen Award 2024. Open Theatre produced a series of entertaining performances which delighted families. Many families enjoyed the show so much that they stayed for all three performances throughout the day. Just as we had hoped, our playful sculpture helped turn the under-used library into a space where people felt comfortable enough to spend the day and be a visual cue for the change to come.

Later in the year, we wanted to mark the moment of pause for Balsall Heath Library as it too temporarily closed for restoration works. Once again, we were interested in challenging the traditional view of what a library is and interrogating what these adaptable public spaces could be used for. After deciding that a weekend-long event would the best way to give us enough time to properly explore this concept (and renaming the project from “Imaginarium” on the advice of one of our consultation groups), we got to work planning Exchange Festival.

Taking place at the beginning of November 2023, Exchange Festival was formed the busiest consecutive two days of activity throughout the entire Diving In project. We took over Moseley Community Hub, directly opposite the library, for the weekend and filled it with a plethora of activities. Programming included events which you might expect in a library – like picturebook readings and bookbinding workshops – alongside lots which you might not; such as stand-up comedy gigs, music performances, sensory play experiences and film screenings. As the name suggests, the festival was all about exchanging ideas. It facilitated the space for creatives to combine artforms, friends and families to trade tales, and strangers to discover common ground.

Between our festival, and interactive sculpture, performances, we reached a total audience of 6,574 people with this particular pilot and explored how libraries have the power to be fun, surprising and radical.


Overall, Diving In has allowed us to offer 205 Birmingham-based freelance opportunities and partner with 33 different local organisations. We have been blown away by the staggering amount of talent on our doorstep, and are incredibly grateful for everyone we have worked with on this mammoth project. They’ve helped us gain a much greater understanding of our local audiences so that, when we reopen our doors at Moseley Road Baths and unleash a brand new programme of activities, we can continue to place our local communities and residents at the heart of everything we do.

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