A tidal wave of joy swept through Govanhill on Saturday 4 February when film star Peter Mullen formally opened the first phase of the Calder Street baths. Several hundred people turned out to celebrate the occasion which was the justification of an 11 year running battle by the local community to reclaim the shuttered building.
‘United we will swim,’ is their motto. And that dream took the determined residents from the day the listed building was abruptly closed by Glasgow City Council and long term protesters evicted with such force that the angry community rioted in protest to Peter Mullen accepting a golden key from an Edwardian styled swimmer to unlock the front door.
It now leads into the original entrance hallway with various spaces functioning as offices and small meeting rooms. Progressively, the building will be brought into use with the three pools all included in the plan. Many new features are in the offing – including a cafe, an indoor garden and flexible space to use as a cinema or entertainment area.
Long term supporter Piper Craig McFarlane, in his Ancient Hunting McFarlane tartan, was delighted to play for the important opening.
Local resident Michael Rodger got into the swim of things in the tailor made, striped, swim suit. While the crowd assembled, Voicebeat choir entertained with many songs old and new including some of the campaign’s old rallying verses. As ‘Freedom is coming’ wafted around the tiled foyer and ‘This pool is my pool…. it belongs to you and me’ echoed through the new offices, mild concern spread among the organisers as one of the main guests – Glasgow City Councillor Archie Graham, overseer of the Glasgow 2014 Commonwealth Games, failed to materalise in time.
More songs filled the gap till a harassed and apologetic Councillor arrived having been delayed.
Then everyone went outside to take pictures of Peter Mullen, the Edwardian Swimmer and the other VIPs such as local MSP Nicola Sturgeon who is on the Board of the Govanhill Baths Trust.
Peter Mullan gave a witty speech recollecting his boyhood spent in the pool. ‘If you stayed in too long over your time, the attendant put your towel in the water. So you had to borrow a bit of your pal’s towel to get dry.’
He taught his daughter to swim at the Govanhill Baths. ‘I couldn’t believe it when they were closed. It is amazing you’ve got to this point with phase 1A complete and I congratulate everyone concerned.’
Deputy First Minister, Nicola Sturgeon said she’d supported the reopening of the Baths ‘even before I was elected.’ She went on: ‘It is my task to say Thank you to the Campaign and a huge thank you to Fatima Uygun and Andrew Johnson who refused to let the pool die. Their tenacity has delivered this amazing opening today.’
While Councillor Archie Graham said he was delighted to be at the event, he said he’d checked there was no water in the pools yet – ‘I was afraid I might be thrown it!’ he joked.
He recollected his boyhood days of walking from Gorbals to the Calder Street Baths – ‘which seemed miles and miles away.’ He emphasised that the Council was about to launch a ‘community assets transfer’ scheme. ‘We cannot provide all the services we once did, because of the massive budget cuts we have to cope with,’ he said. ‘But something like this pool could be transferred to the community and that stands, four-square, with what you have been doing in making this into a Community Health and Wellbeing Centre.’
Ill health prevented Joe McFadyen, superintendent for 20 years at the Baths, from attending the opening.
Said Andrew Johnson who chairs the Community Trust which now runs the place: ‘This is a fantastic and emotional day. We are celebrating 11 years of a long, long journey to get here. But the journey’s only just begun,’ he warned. ‘The second part of the journey is all about funding.’
The next event will be a film premiere on Saturday 25 February in one of the pools which was used as a ‘set’ while the film was being made.
There will be a big splash of VIPs on Saturday 4 February 2012 at the opening of the first phase of Govanhill Baths in Calder Street.
War Horse director Peter Mullan, local MSP Nicola Sturgeon and City Councillor Archie Graham who is responsible for the Glasgow 2014 Commonwealth Games, will all be there at the historic launch.
The formal opening of the front part of the building as offices is the first tangible sign that the Govanhill Baths Trust will be able to re-vamp the entire building into a Community Wellbeing Centre. And with Historic Scotland, this week, confirming their support with funding, the next phase of work can get under way.
Said Andrew Johnson who has led the fight to retain the Baths in community use: ‘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.’
A complex cocktail of funding from a wide variety of sources, support in kind by sponsors NORD Architecture and trojan efforts by local supporters see the dream beginning to come true: the Baths will return to public use. As the motto of the Trust says: ‘United We Will Swim!’
The listed Edwardian building has three pools, sauna and Turkish suites and was a major community hub till it was closed dramatically by the City Council after a long sit-in by protesters more than ten years ago.
Saturday will see the formal opening of the front part of the building. This houses the Headquarters of the Trust and its Centre for Community Practice. The Centre provides a series of community based programmes including healthy eating (Govanhill Grub) Create (an Arts programme) and dedicated learning and leisure facilities for local people.
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. The Historic Scotland funding has to be matched and ownership of the building has to be transferred by Glasgow City Council to the Baths Trust.
Said Andrew Johnson: ‘The ownership is a condition of Big Lottery funding and we’re negotiating with the City in the hope that that
can be achieved.’
The pool is making waves in other directions too. In October the National Theatre of Scotland will take one of the pools over for a three-week production. The legacy from that is expected to be a refurbished pool. In November a massive UK Sports injury exhibition will be located at the Govanhill Baths.
Meanwhile the Baths Trust is looking for photographs and memories of events held in the pool in past times. Contact them via their website: www.govanhillbaths.com
Oatlands has taken on a new lease of life. A fresh committee running the former ‘blue hut’ has painted it white with help from local kids, residents and volunteers from the staff of LINK housing association. Now called Oatlands Community Resource Centre (OCRC) it is even being considered as a place to hold surgeries by local MSP Nicola Sturgeon who visited recently to meet everyone and hear about local issues including the lack of a shop or a safe play space for children.
The OCRC committee has fixed Friday 14 October as a fund raising race night in nearby Hutchesontown Bowling Club. With a disco and a buffet supper it should raise enough to keep the actitivies in the ‘white house’ going for the winter.
Among the plans are a pantomime- which is currently being worked on by regulars at the out of school activities programme alongside Gary, a professional actor from Theatre Ecole.
Kids’ hip hop classes in town are proving popular and kickboxing classes are about to start in the OCRC. The pensioners’ bingo sessions on a Wednesday are well attended. And a hallowe’en party is on the cards. A monthly on-line newsletter – the Gab – run by very youthful wannabee journalists can be read at the website: ocrc.org.uk They don’t pull their punches and have asked why the community doesn’t have a play park for children or a shop.
Said Lisa Gillen, the OCRC volunteer organiser: ‘We’ve had nothing but positive feedback to the painting of the place. And we were very grateful to the LINK staff for their support as well as the willing workers from the local community. They all did a good job in transforming the centre.’