Every week for the last – ooh, I dunno – six months? A year? I’ve looked at “your pictures” in the Guardian Weekend Magazine, thought about sending one in, and haven’t. Finally, about a month ago, the theme was “derelict”, so I sent a picture of Moseley Road Baths – and two weeks later, I was honoured to see that it had been picked as the lead.
Of course, I’m really chuffed. But I must admit it wasn’t just about getting one of my photographs printed. I hoped that it might get Moseley Road Baths a bit more recognition.
The Guardian’s byline referred to the picture as showing “an abandoned swimming pool”, something that the Friends of Moseley Road Baths picked up on a few days later, saying: “The article incorrectly describes the swimming pool as abandoned (there is another fully functioning pool on site), but it’s not difficult to see why they drew that conclusion.”
Indeed, when I visited, the Gala Pool certainly seemed to be abandoned. And upstairs, room after room of dust and neglect. Boxes of photos and certificates dating back thirty or more years. Paperwork. Pigeons.
Even though the future of the Baths hasn’t been decided yet, it’s still a Grade II* listed building. According to English Heritage, Grade II* means it’s a particularly important building of more than special interest. Yet Birmingham City Council aren’t making any repairs at all, even tiny ones that could save a lot of money in the future. To my (admittedly cynical) eye, it does look as though the building is being left to rot, to make future bulldozing decisions easier.
I wrote about what I’d seen in the Gala Pool on the B13 forum after visiting there to take the pictures last August.
“…it’s in a dreadful state. There seem to be a lot of little things that could be done to save disaster in the future, but it’s almost as if they’re letting it run down on purpose.
For example, there’s a pinhole leak in a water pipe above the unused pool. All it would take to fix it is a stepladder (it’s not very high at all) and some epoxy tape (or even a bit of rubber and a pipe clamp, which would last a few years)… but no.
Instead, this tiny leak has already rusted all the metal in the seats and railings on the two stands below it, decayed all the plastic and rubber on the two floors – and is presumably therefore destabilising the structure underneath.
[here I linked to a picture by Keshvala, showing some of the worst rust, but it no longer exists on flickr]
I think that depressed me the most. It implied that there is no intent to stop the rot at all.”
I still worry about what I saw now, nearly a year on, because I know that all the leaks are still there. It can’t be long before the Gala Pool becomes too unstable to even walk around.
However, despite all of this, I haven’t joined the Friends of Moseley Road Baths – and that’s because I’d feel like a fraud. The fact is, I probably wouldn’t swim there. I just don’t go swimming any more. (On the rare occasions that I get the chance to, I prefer the quieter pool at Aston University). Of course, I want the building to be done up and maintained, but the FMRB campaign is for the pool to be refurbished as a pool. Should I be supporting this, if I don’t have any intention of following through and using the pool in the future?
(I certainly can’t think of a use for the Gala Pool if it wasn’t a pool, though. A gym area, perhaps? …Actually, I’d love to see it as a art gallery, but I know that’s just being silly.)
The Victorian Society, (who, in 2007, featured Moseley Road Baths on its list of the ten most endangered buildings in Britain) seems to think that turning it into a different type of venue is a problem that other Baths have faced before, so have pledged support for the pool to stay a pool. They said in 2007: “Knowing how difficult it is to find uses for swimming baths that fall out of use, we are urging Birmingham Council to do all they can to safeguard the future of the pool…”
So perhaps there isn’t any middle ground. Perhaps we do only have a choice between a fully refurbished pool or nothing. Whatever the answer, the Council aren’t telling us. They’re choosing to prevaricate instead. Everything has to fit into a wider strategy of health and fitness provision, which includes Sparkhill Baths, also currently closed. For the last few years there’s been a lot of talking – about sports halls, fitness suites, saunas, new pools – but not a lot of doing.
And if you were Birmingham City Council – already in the red and, as we’ve seen with Central Library, big on change for change’s sake – what would you do? When you can have a brand new pool for millions of pounds less, would you bother looking after a money pit, no matter how pretty it is?
You can see all the photos I took at the Baths, including more of the Gala Pool and the upstairs offices, in my Moseley Road Baths flickr set.