On Saturday I was among the first through the door of the newly opened Gloucester Road Baths. Before anyone starts packing their trunks it is a temporary art-space and not a re-opened pool.
The group ArtSpaceLifeSpace has taken on a rolling lease and is legally using the building. It is a perfect example of how neighbourhoods should be thinking about re-claiming their beloved community buildings.
When I first moved to Bristol a friend put me up in her spare room, almost directly opposite the Gloucester Road Baths. It immediately struck me as a crime that it was closed and left to crumble into disrepair as developers ‘ummed and ahhed’ while waiting for it to become financially beneficial.
For too many years now we have been deprived of a swimming pool – and even the right of entry – to what was once a thriving and happy building. New plans are on the board for a community health centre, part funded by the Council, but until the economy soars back into the black, its only use is as a mobile phone mast…
This all changed recently when a long-running campaign to re-open the Baths merged with a group of creative local guardians who moved in to protect against possible vandalism. They were quick to act when a ‘way-in’ was discovered in the roof, and just in time to prevent potential damage the following night. However, they were unwelcome visitors and the owners of the property (Chatsworth Homes) and the city council pushed for a prompt eviction, which was unquestionably adhered to.
Luckily for all, ArtSpaceLifeSpace was quick to act and immediately applied for the rolling lease. After some discussions with Chatsworth and Bristol City Council (who have worked with the group before), it was decided to allow them to manage the building and curate a community gallery.
This is an outstanding exhibition and I’d recommend everyone should go and visit – currently open from 2-9pm at the weekends – you can even tie it in with some shopping on Gloucester Road.
How long the rolling-exhibition will last depends on how long Chatsworth and BCC take to build the community health centre. But how many other buildings are left to crumble and rot in our communities while we wait for it to become profitable to develop – and how many times are these buildings developed with the local community in mind?
There are the New Street Flats by the central Friends Meeting House in the city centre. A community group recently attempted to bid for the right to develop it into a housing and educational space for recovering alcoholics with a true focus on the individual’s needs. This was refused, as it didn’t quite fit in with the council’s procurement strategy for developing such sites. Profit and deliverability were marked far higher than the social good the project would provide. The financial benefits to society from helping the addicts in our community were likewise ignored.
There are too many building left to sit and gather dust and moss because profit is only seen in short-term financial terms. We need to see the true worth that these buildings hold for us and we need to start tapping into it. The city isn’t just the structures themselves, but how we use and interact with them.
A visit to the now reopened baths on Gloucester Road will inspire, amuse and help you get thinking about what you can do to help bring the city back into community ownership.