Site: Bramley Baths
Type: Public Baths
Location: Bramley, Leeds
Owner: Leeds City Council
Lessee: Bramley Baths and Community Ltd
When Bramley Baths was threatened with closure, a group of local residents campaigned successfully to take over the management of the leisure centre from Leeds City Council (LCC) on 1 January 2013.
The building is now open to the public seven days a week for swimming, gym facilities, and dance and fitness sessions. An imaginative events programme has helped the business to generate a surplus in its first year of trading.
Bramley Baths is the only remaining Edwardian bath-house in Leeds and is Grade II listed. It first opened as a pool and public bath-house in 1904, enabling local residents to wash, swim and use the Russian Steam Baths, fashionable with the Edwardians as a healthy pastime. Originally a steel foundry, the building's chimney can be seen from across Leeds.
In 2011 LCC set about making £90m of savings from its 2011/12 sports budget as a result of reduced government funding. The council announced plans to reduce the opening times of Bramley Baths from 90 to 48 hours.
Due to the possibility that the facility could be shut down completely, a public meeting was organised by local residents to find out what the community wanted to see happen to the building. Lots of older residents reminisced about the baths, but it was clear that it was the sports facilities as well as the building itself that the community wanted to save. The Friends of Bramley Baths group was established to help save the baths.
In June 2011, LCC announced that organisations could apply to take over the lease of Bramley Baths through a community asset transfer scheme. The Friends of Bramley Baths submitted an expression of interest (EOI) with support from a local community organisation - BARCA Leeds - in August 2011. The EOI was successful and the Friends of Bramley Baths were then invited to make a full submission in January 2012.
The importance of keeping the pool open was recognised and a campaign launched to prove that the customer base existed despite the limited daytime opening hours. Eight consultation events in total were arranged for local people, and a full market research appraisal completed, to establish what people wanted from the baths and what the pricing structure should be.
One of the Board members, a retired teacher, promoted the baths to local schools and developed new demand for school lessons. This work enabled a new timetable to be drawn up based on what the community wanted rather than on the number of hours that could be afforded.
It was agreed that the pool would be used as a catalyst for other community activities and advice was sought from another community-run swimming pool in Nottingham to help to develop a business plan.
The group experienced scepticism that local people would have the skills and experience required to run the business successfully. The committee that had formed needed to get to know one another, and the group now believe that drawing out talents of individuals was the key to their success.
A finance team were tasked with looking at staffing structures, income and expenditure, risk, and the implications of possible transfer (TUPE) of existing staff while another team looked at what the governance and legal status of the group should be.
Bramley Baths and Community Ltd was established as a Community Benefit Society (Bencom), a form of Industrial and Provident Society with an in-built 'asset lock' and the ability to raise community shares. Support was provided by Co-operatives UK in the form of a £800 grant to set up and register the organisation.
LCC supported the writing of the business plan and many meetings were required to ensure that any issues, queries or concerns were talked through and resolved.
The council agreed to increase the length of the proposed lease from 5 to 25 years to ensure funding and insurance could be obtained. Insurance proved difficult to arrange as the value of the site was hard to determine and the chimney requires like-for-like brick replacements.
A successful model
Ownership of the pool transferred to the organisation on 1 January 2013 and was celebrated with a free swim on New Year's Day (if you jumped into the pool in fancy dress!).
A series of imaginative events have been organised by the Board of Trustees including the UK's first swim-along cinema involving three film screenings (Jaws, Ghostbusters and Finding Nemo) while the audience swam, performances of aquatic dancing inspired by synchronised swimming, underwater photo booths for families, and an immersive visual-art installation. The dance studio is hired out for various fitness sessions and the car park is used for boot-camp sessions and summer fairs.
Initially open for the same limited number of hours as the council had offered, the building is now open seven days a week and is staffed by a general manager, deputy manager, part-time lifeguards, swimming tutors and gym trainers.
The community group has established a lifeguard training programme for young people in the local area to develop local job opportunities, and three of the young trainees are now working for the baths. The Board are keen to train up the staff in the culture of social enterprise and support them to create a centre not only of health and exercise but also fun and imagination. Their aim is to be 'the friendliest baths in Britain'.
The pool was refurbished in the 1990s and the group have not had to undertake any capital works as yet. Before the pool opened, over 100 qualified tradesmen and local residents volunteered to undertake a deep clean and redecorate where required.
One local resident, a chartered surveyor, was so impressed with the group's approach when he visited that he has now joined the Board and is developing a 25-year asset management plan. This will be co-ordinated with a fundraising strategy to create a repair fund. The group are also considering a community share offer to fund major works in the future.
The Baths created a surplus in their first year of trading and are successfully paying off a loan secured from the Yorkshire Venture Philanthropy Programme. This was established by community foundations in Leeds, Calderdale and South Yorkshire and in partnership with Key Fund and the European Regional Development Fund to support new and established social enterprise projects.
Through this programme the group has received a £50,000 loan and a £25,000 grant. The group have developed a good working relationship to lever in-kind support when needed.
They have received small grants from Community First to train young lifeguards and to purchase children's play equipment. An award of £4,550 was made by Engage Mutual to establish a community garden which is currently being developed by a group of volunteers.