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As The Stirrer revealed earlier this week, the secret report into the future of Birmingham's MoseleyRoad swimming baths recommends a couple of options - one of which involves the closure of the smaller pool, and itsconversion to a more general community use. That's if thebuilding survives at all. Steve Beauchampe says it must be saved - and with both pools intact.

The old Nechells Baths building is an architectural gem, opened in 1910 and situated on the corner of Nechells Park Road and Aston Church Road.

It is one of Edwardian Birm ingham’s most impressive civic buildings and amongst a string of high quality public baths built in the city during the first half of the 20th century.

Yet it closed in 1995 and today operates as an Enterprise and Community Centre, with a Pertemps Job Agency operating from the mezzanine floor installed over where the swimming pool once was.

Sensitive restoration of the building has preserved nearly all of its original features, with extensions and additions blending harmoniously with the original aesthetic.

There’s just one problem…it’s no longer a swimming baths, and the people of Nechells, who were promised replacement facilities when the building was mothballed, are about as likely to get them anytime soon as Robert Kilroy-Silk’s Veritas Party are of sweeping to power at the next General Election.

A few miles to the South West in Balsall Heath, and we find the future of the Grade 2* Listed Moseley Road Baths, one of the finest public baths in Britain, the subject of much conjecture.

Councillor Ray Hassell, Cabinet Member for Leisure Services, having promised the Friends of Moseley Road Baths Group that there would be full public consultation on the baths’ future this summer, steadfastly refuses to make public the report by conservation architects Rodney Melville and Partners that he has had since August (and possibly earlier).

Not surprising therefore that rumour and speculation about the contents of this report abound, including the suggestion that one of Moseley Road’s two pools (and, it might reasonably be imagined, much of the remainder of this cavernous building) may be converted for community use, ala Nechells. (A similar proposal has been made for the former Bournville Lane Baths in Stirchley, which have lain idle since 1998).

Well hold on a minute! Rising levels of obesity amongst young people mean that our children are the first generation in decades to see a fall in their life expectancy, Balsall Heath records levels of heart disease, pneumonia and diabetes well above the Birmingham average and our schools are still suffering the repercussions of a 1990s Government policy to encourage the sale of vast tracts of playing fields to housing developers.

So to address the health issues of a sedentary population, and perhaps train our next generation of sports stars, this city is seriously considering converting yet another swimming pool into a community centre, replete, I would very much imagine, with comfy chairs, computer screens and vending machines dispensing fizzy drinks or caffeine fixes.

The Friends’ of Moseley Road Baths Groups’ recently published Strategy Document on the future of the Baths, which I helped to write, is adamant about the necessity to maintain two pools.

Currently only the smaller pool (Pool 2) is in use, and at a modest 71ft x 33ft, is considered by many experienced and lane swimmers to be too small. Neither is it viable for the hosting of galas, water polo or most other swimming contests. Traditionally, such events have formed an important and significant part of Moseley Road’s calendar.

Pool 2 is perhaps best suited to young and inexperienced swimmers, special needs groups and swimming clubs and societies such as Moseley Voles, Aquarobics and the Synchronised Swimming Club (three of whose members have represented Great Britain).

Many of these groups require sole access to facilities but allowing this at present means the closure of the baths to the general public.

Indeed, many of the activities that encourage young people to swim do not fit easily with the requirements of adults and there is simply insufficient room on the present timetable to cater for a full programme of swimming activities for children and young people.

Making Pool 2 a predominantly children and young people’s pool would allow more school swimming sessions, children’s swimming lessons, additional parent and toddler sessions and family sessions, while the pool could also be hired out for children’s swimming parties.

There are also an increasing number of groups, predominantly female - but not exclusively so - expressing a preference for single-sex swimming sessions, often for religious or cultural reasons and unlike the city’s newer pools, Moseley Road (with its poolside dressing cubicles) has an excellent layout for this owing to the fact that they are not open to public gaze if the pool doors are closed (a benefit also appreciated by some members of disabled and special needs swimming groups).

Women-only swimming at Moseley Road is currently restricted to a few sessions per week, generally at times when mothers, who constitute a large proportion of this constituency, are preparing meals and putting young children to bed. Yet with only one pool operational, the Pool Manager’s ability to more flexibly timetable the sessions is limited.

A further reason for maintaining two pools at Moseley Road is that of pool temperature. From babies floating in rubber rings through to competitive swimmers, from a synchro class to the local water polo group, different users need different pool temperatures to be comfortable.

Every day people telephone in advance to check the pool temperature - the wrong temperature and they may be unable to exercise. For people with disabilities, joint problems, arthritis, injuries and other health related problems a pool that is too cold can be a dangerous place, causing their body to seize up.

Birmingham has a lack of warm swimming pools, and many people currently travel across the city for a swim in the warmer pool of Moseley Road Baths.

When Ray Hassell, his fellow councillors and the officers who advise them consider the future of Moseley Road Baths it is such day-to-day details which should concern them every bit as much as the issue of how swimming provision in Birmingham is financed.

As with libraries, education and health, the wider public benefit must always weigh heavily in the decision-making process.

Finding buildings that could be converted to community centres is easy enough. In 21st Century Birmingham a building with two reasonable sized swimming pools and the infrastructure to operate and maintain them is exceedingly rare.

The city council should think long and hard before they dismantle, or convert forever, such a facility.


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