With so many fab community-led projects going on around the city, it was only a matter of time before one made its way on to our carefully curated collection of all things indie in Leeds. This is a particularly special feature as not only is it our first Visit Leeds article, but it’s also the first of many features that will cover an indie outside of the city centre – hurrah!
Bramley Baths will have come to many an internet-savvy loiner’s attention back in January, as it was featured by The Guardian at the start of 2013. What’s so special about an old swimming baths that would bring London’s attention to us up North, you ask? A very special, magical place indeed.
Bramley Baths is the last Edwardian bath-house remaining in Leeds that might have faced imminent closure, had its neighbours not decided that would have been a travesty and decided to do something about it. We were warmly invited by jolly manager Danny Whiteley and Fran from Friends of Bramley Baths to dip a toe in to the positively tropical waters one rainy Saturday…
Who are you and how did you get here?
We are Bramley Baths, a community-led leisure facility with a swimming pool, gym, fitness studio and Russian steam room open to all!
The Baths first opened in 1904 and is the last remaining bath-house out of 8 built during the Victorian and Edwardian eras. The baths were built in the shell of a working foundry and you can still see the foundry chimney today! Many of the original features still remain including the ironwork on the balcony and the original oak ticket office. Where the Recreation Room and lobby are now there used to be a little terraced house which was knocked through to make the Baths bigger. We actually know someone who used to live in that house. Its fascinating to see her standing in the lobby describing the house she would have been standing in.
Since New Years Day this year Bramley Baths has been managed as a community enterprise with a team of lifeguards and instructors, receptionists and a management team. Bramley Baths & Community Limited was set up up by the Friends of Bramley Baths which is made up of local residents and representatives from local organisations Barca Leeds, Leeds West Academy and Bramley Elderly Action.
How did the Baths end up being community run?
Council cuts meant that the opening hours at Bramley Baths were reduced, so some of us got together to explore what that really meant for its future. Leeds City Council invited groups to put forward proposals for transferring the baths and the Friends developed a business plan that the Council approved, allowing us to take-over management of Bramley Baths on a 25 year lease.
What goes on at Bramley Baths?
Bramley Baths is a place to be healthy and keep fit but its also equally important to people as a social centre. Lots of people come here to use the gym, swim or have a steam and while they exercise, they put the world to rights.
Children learn to swim here, adults relax and get fit, use the gym, steam, take part in exercise classes, families come and celebrate birthdays and occasionally the pool is used for baptisms.
We also hold special events here and some of the best examples are by I Love West Leeds Festival, who has put a live band on the poolside, a whole orchestra on a stage in the middle of the pool, an exhibition under water and turned the pool into a swim-along-cinema!
What do you think is unique about Bramley Baths?
Its the only bath-house of its era left in Leeds with beautiful architecture and one of a decreasing number of pools like this left in the UK. Its a genuinely friendly and welcoming place. People know who you are, they know your name and you become part of the family when you start using Bramley Baths.
We cant think of anywhere else in Leeds you can jump on an exercise bike and exercise under a big skylight or swim under a huge glass roof looking up at the sky or the stars. You cant beat the feeling of swimming in a warm pool bathed in sunlight.
What have the challenges been of moving to a community run Baths?
Weve been really well supported by Leeds City Councils sport and leisure team and weve had lots of help and advice from all sorts of people including Chapeltown Pool in Sheffield and Lenton Baths in Notthingham who are independent swimming pools. Their advice has been invaluable. We had 6 months to get ready to open in which time we secured funding, recruited a team of staff and set up all the other aspects of the enterprise which as a group of volunteers was a huge challenge.
So what’s your most popular activity or session?
Exercise classes like Aqua Aerobics, Hula Hoop fitness and Zumba are really popular and weve got 5 or 6 new classes that weve introduced including Boxercise & Circuit Training. Classes are about 4.00 each.
The new childrens inflatable is also really popular and available for kids parties as well as public sessions. Weve had lots of requests from adults to have a go on it. The inflatable was bought with money raised through a concert and a sponsored swim last year so when we see kids climbing about on it having loads of fun, its great to think that its down to all those people who volunteered their time, came to a gig, sang, played, buttered sandwiches, swam lengths and made cakes.
What’s your favourite activity?
We love the steam room you feel brilliant after a steam and its a great way to wind down after work too.
What do you think lies ahead for Bramley Baths?
Hopefully, with the support of more people, a bright future. Were planning a Lifeguard Training Scheme for young people and were hoping to try out new classes and activities, as well as holding a second Swim-Along-Cinema in July with I Love West Leeds Festival.
Were still finding our feet but our aims are to listen to people who use Bramley Baths and keep fine-tuning things so that were available, accessible and affordable.
Finally, describe Bramley Baths in 3 words…
Warm, welcoming and fun!
Bramley Baths is open 7 days a week and their open day is on Saturday 23 March. Take a look at the Friends of Bramley Baths website for more details.