Select Committee on Culture, Media and Sport Minutes of Evidence

Further supplementary memorandum submitted by Ms Gill Wright representing the Manchester Victoria Baths Trust


  I am a trustee of Manchester Victoria Baths Trust, a charity set up in 1993 when the Victoria Baths was closed for public use. The Trust aims to re-open at least one of the swimming pools at Victoria Baths and the Turkish Baths suite for public use. The Trust is working on plans to renovate the Victoria Baths as a Healthy Living Centre. Since 1998 I have worked as full-time voluntary project worker for the Victoria Baths. I am also a qualified swimming teacher. I teach at a small swimming club in Rusholme which teaches children aged five to 12 (beginners to preliminary lane coaching). I am a single parent of an eight year old girl—a keen swimmer and diver.

  The Victoria Baths is one and a half miles south of Manchester city centre. It was built in 1903-06 as a considerable investment by Manchester Corporation. It provided three swimming pools, 64 wash baths, a Turkish Baths suite, club rooms and a substantial four bedroomed Superintendent's flat. The building is very ornate with a wealth of stained glass, decorative tiling, mosaic floors and ornamental ironwork. It was listed grade II in 1983 and up-graded to grade II* in 1994.

  In 1993 Manchester City Council felt unable to justify the expense of running the Victoria Baths, by this time providing one swimming pool, dry sports facilities, Turkish Baths and an Aerotone Therapeutic Bath (Jacuzzi). Despite vigorous local opposition Victoria Baths was closed. The Victoria Baths Trust was set up by local residents with a view to raising capital to renovate the building and re-open swimming and Turkish Bath facilities to the public. Manchester City Council made it very clear that they could not provide funding for this project, but would support a scheme which enabled the building to be operated independently.

  As a result of the closure of Victoria Baths, the opportunity to swim has been lost to many people. Traditional pools suit the needs of the young, older and disabled swimmers in particular. Transport is a big factor and many people will not swim if they cannot walk to a local pool.

  The Trust is now working on plans to renovate the Victoria Baths as a Healthy Living Centre providing a range of leisure, health and arts facilities. The Centre will address many aspects of local and central government policy:

    —  addressing health inequalities and social exclusion;

    —  encouraging participation in sport;

    —  achieving economic regeneration; and

    —  increasing access to and interpretation of a significant listed building.

  Despite meeting many targets of government policy and potentially providing very great public benefit, we face an enormous task and have yet to solve the issue of how to re-open the swimming pool at Victoria Baths.


  When it closed in 1993, it was estimated by the city council that £500,000 was needed to update the facilities at Victoria Baths. A feasibility study commissioned by the Trust estimated full renovation costs in 1994 to be £3.8 million. In 1999 the estimated cost of restoring and converting the entire building as a healthy living centre was £9.1 million. These are net costs and do not include the very heavy cost to the project of VAT which is payable in full for repairs to listed buildings. The VAT bill for the renovation of Victoria Baths is £1.83 million. This in itself is a massive sum for the project to raise. We have to raise this amount, from public sources, in order to pay VAT back to the Exchequer. Whilst relief has recently been announced for listed churches, there is still an urgent need to make relief available to public projects on listed buildings such as Victoria Baths.


  Very few swimming pools run without subsidy. Whilst forecasts commissioned by the Trust indicated that our leisure facilities might operate at break-even, independent scrutiny of these forecasts predicted a potential revenue deficit of £50,000-£75,000 per annum. There are numerous potential sources of capital funding for the restoration of Victoria Baths, but we have yet to identify any potential sources of revenue support. We are now pursuing a phase 1 Healthy Living Centre project at Victoria Baths which includes restoration of the Turkish Baths, but not the swimming pool. Whist still providing wide social benefits (including a gym/fitness suite, health and arts facilities) this does nothing to meet the demand for local swimming facilities in Longsight, Rusholme and Ardwick.


  We are at the first phase of capital applications for Victoria Baths in a complex fund-raising plan. Not only does each funder require different information, the procedures and time-scales vary considerably and sometimes clash. We would welcome a requirement on all public funding bodies to co-operate with each other, hold joint meetings and review their procedures to enable multiple funding bids to run smoothly.


  The Manchester Splash Swimming Club used Victoria Baths until its closure. The Club now meets at Manchester Grammar School. We have a long waiting list of children who want to learn to swim. Whilst other provision exists in Manchester, parents indicate that they want local provision at convenient times at a reasonable price. Our club easily breaks even, yet still manages to charge a fraction of the price of the local authority and private swimming lessons, due to the voluntary input form the club committee. Lack of water space is the biggest factor preventing our club from expanding its provision.

26 November 2001

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