The National Trust is just one of the many partners that have worked very hard to keep Moseley Road Baths open. This weeks blog post is by Lucy Reid, Assistant Director of Operations, of The National Trust, Midlands. Lucy understand us, the MRB coalition, her work along with the amazing team at NTMidlands is greatly valued. We are delighted to post this blog, thank you Lucy!
You probably remember where you learned to swim. For me, it was a non-descript leisure pool on the edge of a small town in the North East. I don’t remember much about the location. But the sensory memories linger: the smell of chorine in badly-brushed wet hair; the rush of cold air when you step outside, with the shouted instructions of swim teachers still ringing in your ears.
Several decades later, my own children are learning to swim at Moseley Road Baths. I hope that their memories will be packed with all of that sensory stuff, together with a deep love and appreciation for this glorious building – a palace for swimming – and for the generations of people who have learned to swim or who have bathed here; but also with an understanding that it takes a whole community to save a place like this. And that places like this are good for us and are worth saving.
I work for the National Trust. We are a big independent conservation charity set up in 1895, just 12 years before the Baths, by three Victorian social reformers who believed that beauty and nature are both vitally important to our wellbeing, and a fundamental right for all people.
Thanks to our founders’ vision and the generous donations of supporters, we now care for over 780 miles of coastline, 250,000 hectares of farmland and 500 historic properties, gardens and nature reserves, for the benefit of the nation. We are proud to have nearly 6 million members.
If you have heard of us, you might know us best in the Midlands for the large areas of countryside and coastline we care for on behalf of the nation (places like the Shropshire Hills, the Peak District and, closer to home, the Clent Hills). Or maybe you visit some of our country houses too – Croome in Worcestershire, or Baddeley Clinton and Packwood House near Solihull. But we love cities too. And a more recent development for us – inspired by our founders – has been to explore what our role is in urban environments: how can we be a good partner and support places that are important because of both their heritage and community significance?
It was with this in mind that I first got involved with the Baths in 2015. I checked back in my diary whilst writing this blog post. On 9 October I met Karen Leach (Chair, MRB CIO) for a coffee. Karen was setting up Moseley Road Baths Action Group, fondly known as ‘Mr Bag’, to work with alongside the Friends of Moseley Road Baths to see what more could be done to save the Baths. I was in a new regional role that included my home town of BIRMINGHAM as part of the remit. We already open the Back to Backs as a visitor attraction – where we share stories of migration and the experiences of living in the city’s last surviving Back to Back court; and in 2020 we’ll be opening the Roundhouse in partnership with the Canal & River Trust as a place from which to explore the city by foot, boat or bike. I was interested to explore where else we might get involved and how we could be involved in a way that might be different to our usual way of working.
Around the same time, other big national and international heritage organisations were also getting more involved – following contact from the Friends of Moseley Road Baths, World Monuments Fund added the Baths to their 2016 Watch List of internationally significant heritage sites; Historic England had included the Baths on its ‘Heritage At Risk’ register for a number of years and made a small grant to ‘Mr Bag’ to undertake an options review. From these early beginnings, the idea of forming a ‘coalition of the willing’ emerged: the scale of work required at the Baths was too big for one organisation alone to solve. So, we decided to solve it together.
The National Trust has taken the role of leading the coalition, working alongside Birmingham City Council (who owns the building) and the other partners to reimagine a new future of the Baths with swimming at its heart. Part of my role involves chairing the coalition steering group which includes a senior stakeholder from each member of the coalition (CIO, Birmingham City Council, Historic England, World Monuments Fund) – but I also enjoy contributing as a volunteer in other ways when time allows. Working together, so far the ‘coalition’ has contributed over £2m of time, expertise and funding: Historic England kicked off the first phase of work with a major grant to restore the Gala Pool roof with match funding from Birmingham City Council; the World Monuments Fund is supporting works to the façade of the building; BCC continues to revenue-fund the maintenance of the building; the National Trust is leading the master-planning process; and of course most importantly of, all the CIO is running a swimming operation in Pool 2 that aims to meet local community needs.
Since these early days, momentum has built. Minds have changed. More friends and supporters have come on board. A plan is coming together to restore the whole building. It’s big and very expensive – the building is in pretty bad shape – and it’s complex. Keeping swimming going is just one part of the challenge: a multi-million-pound capital repair programme is needed to repair the whole of the building and safeguard its future.
So, what’s next? Well, the recent restoration of the Gala Pool Roof, with artists Juneau Projects’ lovely community celebration of the joy of swimming at the Baths is a fantastic statement of intent. Looking to the future, we have just heard that we are one of 12 projects shortlisted to submit an application to the National Lottery Heritage Fund’s Heritage Horizon Awards – which is looking to support “ambitious, innovative and transformational projects, not just for heritage, but for people and communities too”. It’s a competitive process and the National Trust will be submitting an application for £10m on behalf of the coalition. The deadline is November 2020 – and we’ve a huge amount of work to do to get ourselves ready for this.
So in the meantime, keep swimming and watch this space…