Rebirth of Govanhill Baths can lift entire community

The former ladies pool will be renovated as part of the long-planned re-opening of Govanhill Baths, the last surviving Edwardian bathhouse in Glasgow. Picture: Contributed
The former ladies pool will be renovated as part of the long-planned re-opening of Govanhill Baths, the last surviving Edwardian bathhouse in Glasgow. Picture: Contributed
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It is an inner-city area which has made headlines for facing social issues other districts in Glasgow have long since forgotten.

Poor housing stock, overcrowding and concerns about petty crime and flytipping are just some of the regular complaints made by residents of Govanhill, which lies south of the city centre.

Nicola Sturgeon meets members of the Govanhill Baths Community Trust in the empty main pool, which has been used as a performance space. Picture: Jeff Holmes

Nicola Sturgeon meets members of the Govanhill Baths Community Trust in the empty main pool, which has been used as a performance space. Picture: Jeff Holmes

But while the local authority, housing association, Scottish Government and police join forces to ensure the area has a safe and prosperous future, several community-led groups are working to prove Govanhill already has a lot going for it.

The tenement-lined streets centred around Victoria Road and Allison Street have been described as “Scotland’s Ellis Island” because of its role housing successive waves of immigrants, from the Irish in the late 19th century to more recent arrivals such as Roma from Slovakia and the Czech Republic.

Until its closure in 2001, old and new residents alike met at Govanhill Baths – by far the best-known landmark in the district and the last surviving Edwardian bathhouse in Glasgow.

The B-listed building was shut by Glasgow City Council, citing rising costs and low customer numbers and it seemed likely swimmers would never again enjoy a dip in one of its three pools.

Fly tipping is a common complaint from residents in Govanhill. Picture: Robert Perry

Fly tipping is a common complaint from residents in Govanhill. Picture: Robert Perry

Now plans have been unveiled to re-open Govanhill Baths as a community run sports centre after eight years of fundraising by local campaigners.

A community trust was established and eventually took control of the building in 2008.

Volunteers have since worked tirelessly to fund the building’s maintenance by using the empty main pool as a unique performance space.

“We’ve been able to provide not only housing and legal advice from the baths, but also host art exhibitions and performances,” said Katie Gallogly-Swan, outreach officer at Govanhill Baths Community Trust.

READ MORE: Govanhill: Glasgow’s Ellis Island

It was the award of a Heritage Lottery grant last year that kick-started long-held plans to welcome back swimmers.

The building will now close in September to allow the former ladies pool – the second largest of the three – to be fully renovated.

A new gym and a community garden will also be built, with the aim of opening to the public in 2018.

The main pool will remain as a live venue in the short term to allow more fundraising to pay for its eventual refurbishment.

“We’re there as a community asset, so the ultimate goal is to have the community drive it,” added Gallogly-Swan.

The campaign to save the baths has attracted some high-profile supporters, including the area’s constituency MSP, Nicola Sturgeon.

“The campaign is a fantastic example of how a community can come together to protect what’s valuable to the people who live there,” she told The Scotsman.

“If it wasn’t for the action taken by local people, the building would have been demolished years ago. Instead, after years of struggle and hard work by the Govanhill Baths Community Trust, it looks like the baths will have a bright future. There is still a lot of work to be done to restore and re-open the whole building but I have confidence that it will happen.”

But the baths are far from the only successful community project in the area.

Big Noise Govanhill was launched in 2013 on the back of a successful pilot project in Stirling’s Raploch estate.

Around 800 children, from three local primary schools and two nurseries, are given free musical tuition at school and during holidays.

This week several Govanhill pupils put their skills to the test by performing with the BBC Scottish Symphony Orchestra as part of the Big Noise Govanhill’s Side By Side concert.

A spokesman for Glasgow City Council said it had a long-term approach to bring lasting change to Govanhill.

A council spokesman said: “Significant, extra resources have been dedicated to Govanhill in recent years.

“The plans have seen Govanhill Housing Association buy-up property in the area’s four most problematic blocks and this can ensure these properties are factored effectively.

“We welcome the support from the First Minister for an extension to the current pilot programme.”

READ MORE: Images of Govanhill Baths refurbishment revealed