Withington Baths: £1m lifeline should secure future of historic Manchester pool

Investment of £1m is expected to be agreed next week to help restore Manchester’s last Edwardian swimming pool.
Withington BathsWithington Baths
Withington Baths

The future of an historic Manchester building could be secured next week with a vital cash injection.

The 110-year-old Withington Baths, which is run by a community group which saved it from closure, badly needs extensive work carrying out to refurbish it and repair the structure.

However, Manchester City Council is expected to step in next week and approve a £1m investment package to carry out the vital work.

The news emerged just days after it was revealed that 16 Manchester landmarks are on Historic England’s Heritage at Risk register for 2021.

What is Withington Baths and who runs it?

Withington Baths is the last Edwardian swimming pool remaining in Manchester and the building also now contains a community fitness and leisure centre.

It is run by the Love Withington Baths Charitable Trust, which took over the leisure centre following a successful campaign to save the building in 2015.

The Baths had been earmarked for closure – to be replaced by the new Hough End Leisure Centre – but the local group fought for its survival as a community asset.

That effort saved 25 jobs and kept the popular community facility open for its 2,000 members, which includes around 700 children who visit for their weekly swimming lessons.

The Baths also provides shared workspace used by around 20 local self-employed sole traders.

Why is there a financial issue refurbishing the Baths?

The Trust has successfully operated the leisure centre since the takeover, meeting running costs and building a reserve of funds.

It has also been able to carry out a number of refurbishment projects, including work on two fitness studios, developing the workspace and bringing the sauna back into use.

This was all done while retaining the historic features and characters of the building.

However, now considerable repair is required to the building’s structure, including major work on the pool and boiler system and the restoration of the heritage roof, parts of which have been damaged by fire.

The roof of Withington Baths which was damaged by fireThe roof of Withington Baths which was damaged by fire
The roof of Withington Baths which was damaged by fire

The Trust managed to secure a successful Heritage Lottery funding bid of £900,000 and an additional £230,000 from the Baths’ own reserves, and it had been hoped this sum would cover the costs of the project.

However, a bid to the Government’s Levelling up Fund failed and with the rapidly increasing construction costs in the current economic climate the Trust is currently around £1m short and unable to proceed without support.

What is Manchester City Council doing?

The council is stepping up to the plate and is going to ask the executive to approve a long-term loan to the Trust of £1m.

This is being funded from the council through prudential borrowing) and will be paid back over 25 years.

The executive committee meets next Wednesday (17 November) and the loan to secure the Baths’ future is expected to be agreed.

What has the Trust said?

Paul Smith, managing director at Love Withington Baths, said: “Withington is the last working Edwardian pool in Manchester from the extensive network which were built across the city as part of a public health movement in the early part of the 20th century.

The roof of the Withington Baths swimming pool roofThe roof of the Withington Baths swimming pool roof
The roof of the Withington Baths swimming pool roof

“This financial support, partly secured from The National Heritage Lottery Fund and further funding by the Council, means that we can complete the full works which are required to restore the Baths to its original condition and to ensure that it continues to provide high quality health and fitness services for local people for years and years to come.”

What has the council said?

Coun Bev Craig, the leader elect of Manchester City Council, said: ‘”The Trust have proven themselves to be a remarkably successful group who have not only saved and retained use of a beautiful heritage building in Withington, but have maintained access to swimming and leisure facilities for the local community.

“This loan will secure the future of this building for the decades to come, providing a sustainable future for the Baths and supporting the continued success of Withington as a better place to live and work.”

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