Select Committee on Culture, Media and Sport Minutes of Evidence

Memorandum submitted by Govanhill Pool, Glasgow

  "The purpose of the pool campaign is to ensure that the Calder Street Pool is reopened as a publicly funded Healthy Living Centre. The Centre would be for the use and improvement in health and sport of all the residents in Govanhill and surrounding areas."


  1.  History of Calder Street Baths
  2.  The Govanhill Area
  3.  The Process of Closure
  4.  Funding
  5.  Has Funding New Pools been the Answer?
  6.  Pool Campaign
  7.  Health Issues
  8.  Political Support
  9.  Religious Support
  10.  Media
  11.  Thank you for Listening
  12.  In Summary
  13.  Recommendations for Consideration


1.1  History

  The Calder Street Baths were opened in around 1914. It is a Grade IIB listed building. The building has many similar features to swimming pools built around that period such as the Victoria Baths in Manchester.

1.2  Facilities available

    (a)  Large main pool especially useful for lane swimming.

    (b)  A smaller pool that was especially used for segregated swimming to cater for the large ethnic population in the local area. Ethnic females, for religious reasons, are not able to bathe in open public areas.

    (c)  A teaching pool that was used for teaching children to swim, and was especially useful for teaching of special needs children—the pool was used by four local special needs schools (Hollybrook, St Oswalds, Kirkriggs and Carnbooth), all of which have lost swim time since the closure of the pool).

  There were also gym facilities and a sauna and steam room. The laundrette and bathtubs were closed despite 700 households in the area not having bathing facilities, ie no bath or shower.

1.3  Usage of the facilities

  There were 200,000 users of the pool in recent years. Like similar pools around the country, the facility has not been maintained and appeared to be deliberately under-funded allowing the building to fall into disrepair. This led to frequent temporary closures of the pool due to mechanical problems with the boiler and other apparatus. Glasgow City Council estimates that in the last year before closure there were only 80,000 users. Figures for usage were grossly inaccurate as machines used for counting apparently often did not work and were delayed from being repaired; swim days were also lost due to above cited problems. Swimming groups were counted as one user when in fact there were up to 200 users in the club.


  The Govanhill area of Glasgow is one of the most deprived areas of the city with poor health, high unemployment and crime a major concern. Govanhill lies within the Shettleston constituency, officially the unhealthiest and most deprived in Britain. There is a diverse mix of ethnic and religious groups in the local area. Like many deprived inner city areas around the country Govanhill faces the threat of closure of many local facilities and amenities. Local perceptions that the area is in decline were confirmed in a study what was carried out by the Scottish Council Foundation, this study identified Govanhill as a community "at risk". A key local concern uncovered by this study was the loss and deterioration of local facilities.

  This was recognised in the document Sport Life for You "Low levels of car ownership result in a lack of personal mobility and coupled with low levels of income and territoriality amongst young people place major constraints on their participation in sport and recreation.

  Sport Scotland also state that sport such as swimming can make a positive impact on young people in particular. As it provides an opportunity for personal and social development and a positive alternative to crime, drug and alcohol abuse. Naturally it improves health and fitness and can boost confidence and self esteem, teach leadership, teamwork and social skills that can be used in all aspects of life. It also offers valuable lessons on how to win and how to lose. It teaches the benefit of hard work and how to treat others with self-respect.

  The pool should not only be preserved for preservations sake but should be preserved because it responds to the needs of the local community—multi-cultural as well as poor health and suffering multiple deprivation.


3.1  Initially

  When opposition parties in Glasgow first raised concern about the possible closure this was denied by the Council and elected Councillors. The information give to the Scottish Parliament led Rhona Brankin, Junior Minister in response to questions about the closure of another neighbouring pool, to state in December 1999, that Govanhill offered one of the best provisions in Scotland.

3.2  Council makes a decision

  At some state during the year attitudes to the pool suddenly changed. It is difficult to know when Glasgow City Council made the decision, as there was no apparent record of the decision being made to close the pool by the Culture and Leisure Department, whose Director is Bridget McConnell, wife of the Jack McConnell, now the First Minister. In January 2001 was the first time that it was officially confirmed after months of denial that the Council had decided to close the pool. In February 2001 the matter was due to be discussed by the Council Finance Committee. However, before this finance meeting letters were made available at the pool signed by the Council Leader stating that the pool would be closing, at the end of March, stating that the pool had "past its sell by date", and also implied that the decision had already been taken to close the pool. At the crucial finance meeting the local elected councillor who could have objected to the closure was absent, leaving nobody to speak on behalf of the local community. Instead of writing to the chair of the Finance Committee, he had written to the Labour Chief Executive. This ensured that there were no objections at the meeting that approved the closure as a budget cut.

3.3  Pool users informed

  In January 2001 Council officials informed swimming clubs of the closure and some were allocated a pool in Castlemilk several miles away. They were not given an opportunity to use either of the two new pools.

3.4  Community Council

  The Community Council was not properly informed of the proposal before closure. The Council has now disbanded the local Community Councils as the democratically elected local representatives have tried to discuss the pool closure.

3.5  Feasibility Study

  After the public outcry from the local community and in Glasgow of yet another pool closure in the city a feasibility study was commenced to put forward proposals for the pool building. The remit for EDAW, the appointed consultants, was partial and full demolition as well as the possibility of some kind of pool facility. Re-opening the pool with public funding was not an option, limiting the remit of the feasibility study.

  EDAW, the contractors appointed by GCC to undertake the feasibility study have refused to talk to any community resident or local business that would involve re-opening all three pools or any Council funding as it was not in their remit.

  EDAW finally recognised the importance of Community consultation and sent out thousands of questionnaires to selected local residents on 16 November 2001. This is nearly five months after they commenced the survey. The questionnaire stated that funding was "unlikely" to be available for the main pool. This is incorrect given that a proper evaluation has not been carried out. The questionnaire officially recognised that most local residents support the pool being re-opened. Options that EDAW included were demolishing a Grade IIB listed building and reusing it for a variety of different uses. The questionnaire is completely biased to the Council preferred options.

3.6  Title Deeds

  In a previous case GCC were prevented from building on the Glasgow Green, a local park, because it was revealed the Title Deeds stated that the park was to be retained for the good of the people of Glasgow. In the case of the Calder Street Baths GCC are taking extraordinary measures to prevent local people viewing the Title Deeds of the building. The Official Council solicitor stated that GCC is withholding the title deeds every attempt will be made to prevent their disclosure on the building. The Council has refused to allow anyone to view the Title Deeds of the Calder Street building even after legal representation had been made. It makes it very interesting that such vital documents are being withheld after what happened at Glasgow Green.


4.1  Sport Scotland/Lottery Funding

  Glasgow City Council received substantial grants from Sport Scotland, which they do not appear to be required to give any account of their expenditure. We have tried on numerous occasions to obtain clarification from Sport Scotland about how they monitor how the money is spent. To date they have not replied to our correspondence or appear to have any proper accountable procedures to avoid misuse of funds.

  A swimming group using the pool has not been able to obtain any kind of public funding, as the funding maximum expenditure threshold is quite low. An example, swimming group had an annual budget of £15,500. This is £500 over the level eligible for lottery funding. As a result they are not able to receive any lottery funding for their group.

4.2  Scottish Heritage/Civic Trust

  The building is listed and is on the "at risk" register by the Scottish Civic Trust. There is a real fear that the Council plan to demolish this listed building as they have done in other parts of the city.

4.3  Scottish Executive

  The Scottish Executive has had a huge under spend, despite this they have stated that they are unable to assist in local matters. However, the Scottish Executive were able to offer assistance for Hampden which is in the local area of the pool and Sighthill where the Council has accommodated refugees.

4.4  Glasgow City Council

4.4.1  Maintenance of old pools

  There is clear evidence that Councils do not want to maintain old historic buildings. Such buildings are often deliberately under-funded so that they are run-down making closure more likely. This is clearly a form of "institutional vandalism". The Convenor of the Cultural and Leisure Services stated that "The Labour Group believe that smaller swimming pools like Calder Street are past their useful life and their retention is considered impossible." This apparent short-sighted attitude appears to be a prevalent attitude of many inner city councils around the country of many political persuasions. In Calder Street this meant that loose tile were stuck back with sticky tape rather than proper tiling grout ensuring that further water penetration and damage occurred.

  At one time Glasgow had 25 public bathhouses, all in the traditional Victorian style. Govanhill was the last remaining pool of this type in Glasgow, the only other which is still in operation, has been extensively refurbished and has lost many of its original features. The loss of Govanhill would thus be a devastating blow to the architectural heritage and social history of the city.

  The most intensive period of culling of Victorian bathhouses in Glasgow has taken place over the past 20 years. To our knowledge there are at least three other Victorian bath houses in Glasgow which were closed in the last five years and which currently still lied boarded up and unused. These bathhouses are typically located in inner city areas and are very much community facilities, accessed mostly on foot by local residents. Govanhill pool was regarded as such a community facility and was accessed mostly by people who lived within a one to two mile radius of the pool, mostly on foot or local transport. The Council has chosen to cut down on the level of service by building a far smaller number of leisure facilities, to which people are expected to travel over longer distances.

  The ethnic minority community also face significant barriers to using these local facilities because of the open, glass walled architectural style, prohibiting use for those, particularly women of the Islamic faith. Govanhill pools extensive use by the local (and wider) ethnic minority community demonstrates that not only is the pool a historic building with strong heritage value but that it is also a very relevant building to the contemporary needs of a multi-cultural community.

4.4.2  Security costs

  Glasgow City Council has spent tens of thousands of pounds for security officers for a peaceful campaign. This money could have been better spent keeping the pool open for another year whilst a proper public consultation took place.

4.5  Other sources of funding

  As there has been no formal process enabling alternative sources to be found from resident and business donations, health board and other charitable groups. This was possible, before closure by the Council, working with the local community if the intention was to save the pool.


5.1  Environmentally unfriendly

  One of the new pools was built on a site with a history of subsidence. Another new pool has glass fronted sides unsuitable to certain ethnic groups for religious reasons. Glass buildings need a lot more maintenance in the long term and are not environmentally friendly as there are more heating and air-conditioning costs.

5.2  Leisure pools not swimming pools

  The new facilities are unsuitable for swimming clubs, as they are leisure pools. They are not deep enough nor do they have adequate if any spectator galleries for competitions and swimming galas.

5.3  Poor public transport access

  The location of these facilities is unsuitable for access by public transport—both of the facilities to which Govanhill residents have been redirected to—Gorbals and Bellahouston—require either two buses or a bus and a long walk. This is proving prohibitive for non-car owners, the elderly, disabled, and those with families. New pools had been built with poor transport access to areas losing pools.

5.4  Territorial problems

  A further barrier for young people is the territorialism which exists between Govanhill and the Gorbals, unfortunately young people will not travel into what is regarded as a "rival area", where there safety is at risk, and are choosing not to swim at all.

  Some of the swimming groups that used the Calder Street Pool state that there has been a 50 per cent drop in numbers. There has been a similar drop in GP referrals for health rehabilitation patients.


6.1  How a pool campaign began

  Like other pools around the country that faced a similar uncertain future it was clear that local support needed to be established. The Pool Campaign arose and was established to ensure that another local facility was not lost without local support.

  There had been rumours for a long time that the Calder Street Baths could close. Elected Councillors and Council officials always denied this. There was no effective debate about the closure either before during or after closure.

  The Mission Statement of the campaign is "The purpose of the pool campaign is to ensure that the Calder Street Pool is re-opened as a publicly funded Healthy Living Centre. The Centre would be for the use and improvement in health of all the residents in Govanhill and surrounding areas."

  The Campaign started when it became clear in January 2001 that the pool could close, The Campaign has always been peaceful and non-violent. When it became clear that the Council was following the DAD principles:

    Decided on a policy without any proper consultation;

    Announced a policy without any proper consultation; and

    Defended that policy without any proper consultation.

6.2  High Profile Action

  It became clear that when the local elected representative Councillors were not willing to discuss the matter attention needed to be drawn to the Calder Street Pool. An occupation of the building began to preserve the building and prevent any vandalism or theft-taking place from this local facility. The occupation lasted over a hundred days whilst the Council deliberated on the course of action to take. Clearly they under-estimated the strength of local feeling and highlighted that the Council was not following Government guidelines to actively seek local support and ideas in the decision making process. The occupation ended on 7 August with the Council implementing an eviction order. The approach the Council adopted shocked people throughout Glasgow and Scotland. The Police involvement on the day is now under investigation by Fife Constabulary.

6.3  Support Days

  Various Gala Days and events ranging from rallies to bike rides were organised at which hundreds of local people turned up to support. There is widespread support for the campaign all over the city.

6.4  Petition

  Tens of thousands of people have signed the petition to keep the pool open.

6.5  World-wide web support

  The save our pool campaign's web-site at has received over 20,000 hits and messages of support. A priest in Brazil/the Mayor of Brisbane Australia had sent some pictures of a demolished pool building.

6.6  High Profile Celebrity support

  Many actors, public figures and celebrities have stopped by the pool to support the campaign.


7.1  Health Study

  The pool campaign from its own resources has funded a health feasibility study in the area to assess the real impact of the pool closure on the local community. Support has been widespread with local residents, schools and patients taking time to complete the forms.

  The results of this study are currently being collated, however a few key issues are being raised again and again. When asked what people like/dislike about traditional pools and what they like/dislike about leisure pools again and again it is said that the traditional pool of Govanhill was friendly and had a strong community feeling, unlike the leisure pools which are regarded as impersonal and clinical. This point should strike a chord with the governments policies on neighbourhood and community cohesion, in Govanhill, a community "at risk" the pool was an oasis of calm, a place to feel a part of a together community. Such facilities should be encouraged, not destroyed.

  A great many people also mentioned the distance and inaccessibility of the new facilities, this is proving a powerful disincentive for many people, to the extent that they have either given up swimming or have drastically reduced the amount of swimming they do.

  More worryingly, Glasgow City Councils flagship public health initiative—"free swimming for kids" is floundering in Govanhill—early indications show that a significant number of local children have failed to apply for the free swim card, despite being regular swimmers at Govanhill, they cannot travel to the new distant facilities themselves and their parents cannot afford to take them.

7.2  Results from the health survey

  Below is a selection of quotes from local people, from the questionnaires:

    "People need to have facilities so that they can have no excuse for being heart attacks-in-waiting"—Pollokshields resident, female 26-40.

    On Govanhill pool "a valuable local facility that catered for the needs of the community, deliberately run down by the Council"—Govanhill resident, female age 26-40.

    "I am a personal carer and now have to make extra arrangements to care for my relative while travelling to a distant pool. I used Govanhill pool twice a week but now can only arrange to use Gorbals once a week—travelling time is the main factor."—Govanhill resident, female, age 60+.

    "The closure of the pool has not only affected my joints (arthritis) but has also affected by social networks". Female 26-40 Govanhill

  Below are some quotes from public health experts, which points to the need for good health promoting facilities in places like Govanhill:

    "the key to health improvements is to address the causes of poor health and not just the symptoms".

    "implications for public health policy is that attention should be focused on places as well as people".

    "public health policy should focus on health promoting or health damaging features of local areas as well as on individual lifestyle factors".

7.3  Casualties of closure

7.3.1  Stroke victim

  One of the saddest cases that the campaign that had come to the attention was that of a local resident who used to swim daily at the pool. Since it's closure has been unable to travel to other facilities. Recently this swimmer had a stroke and is now limited mobility. The full impact of the pool closure on this victim cannot be clearly assessed however, there will be many more such cases in the long term.

7.3.2  Mugged swimmers

  A female swimmer unable to afford the bus fare to the new pool walked from Govanhill through a park to Bellahouston Pool. On the way she was mugged in the park. On arriving at the pool was told she could not swim as there were too many children in the pool for lane swimming to be possible.

7.3.3  Territorial pools

  Young people attempted to use the Gorbals pool are being threatened by Gorbal youths stating that people from Govanhill are not allowed to use their pool.


8.1  MPs

  Local MP's including Mohammed Sarwar (Govan) and David Marshall (Shettleston) have both pledged support and have tried to liaise with the local council. As many MPs will be aware of their talks with their own local councils that they have not appreciated their involvement. Mr Sarwar referred to the Council Leader as the "City's Godfather" the Untouchable.

8.2  House of Lords

  Baroness Kennedy of Pollok had contacted the campaign to register her support as she had apparently used the facilities of the pool.

8.3  MSP's

  MSP's including Nicola Sturgeon, Dorothy Grace Elder amongst others have brought the Govanhill pool situation to the attention of the Scottish Executive but was unable to gain sufficient support.

8.4  Local Councillors

  Like many pool campaigns around Britain, local councillors, despite letters, e-mails and visits to the local surgery, sadly have been unwilling to discuss the pool issue in a mature democratic way. This has been the same in Govanhill as in other areas, and has towed the official party line. In areas where one party controlled Town Halls for long periods local democracy suffers and is not popular. In both Liverpool and Lambeth once considered safely controlled Councils the local electorate fed up of such arrogance and voted out the ruling party.

8.5  Other Support

  Kingston Swimming Club, Queens Park Swimming Club, Govanhill Amateur Swimming Club, Men's Fitness Swimming Club, Talim Trust, Govanhill Housing Association. Various pool campaigns around Britain including Victoria Baths and Gorton Tub in Manchester.


9.1  Local Mosque Leaders

  Local mosque leaders have supported the campaign as they have lost a valuable local facility that was suitable for Asian women to use. The Council states that they have taken this into account when building new local pools. The extent to which the Council was out of touch was building glass fronted buildings for pools and believing that this would be accepteable to Asian women who are unable to show their legs in public.

9.2  Church Leaders

  Various denominational church leaders have supported the campaign recognising the importance of local, affordable amenities for the welfare of the local community. Spending several pounds to go swimming by public transport to the nearest pools is not an option for many.

9.3  Synagogue Leaders

  Synagogue leaders like the other religious leaders have also pledged their support.

9.4  Gudwara Leaders

  Local temple leaders have also backed the campaign.

10.  MEDIA

  Local and national media have covered the campaign recognising the importance of local accountability and democracy. There have been several hundred articles and features in the newspapers, national and local news and radio.

  Journalist of the Decade, Paul Foot, amongst others has written to register his support for the campaign.


  My father used to work across the road from the Houses of Parliament at Westminster Underground Station. As a child I would often visit him at his work place. He was convinced that politicians at Westminster were not interested in what the average person on the street had to say and was definitely not interested in what the ethnic minorities have to say. I am pleased that times have changed since those times. The pool campaign is fully aware that Heritage is a devolved matter. However, the experiences of Govanhill have national implications and is current and still pending. Whatever the outcome of the your report I am personally enormously grateful to the Culture, Media and Sport Select Committee for allowing me the time and opportunity to present this case and for listening.

  Elected representatives must listen to their electorate to ensure that the best value and best solutions are found to meet local needs and requirements. If politicians are unwilling to listen they lose touch with their electorate and are unable to deliver on their promises or local needs. It is important in our parliamentary democracy that elected representatives listen and create opportunities to hear from ordinary people. On behalf of the people of Govanhill thank you for listening.


12.1  The pool is part of the community

  Baroness Thatcher (whose name the room bears where the evidence is due to be submitted), once said there is no such thing as Society. When local amenities and community facilities are closed the very fabric of that community is undermined and its very heart destroyed. A situation far worse than Baroness Thatcher's images emerges the community becomes a society of individuals. The health of the individual is affected by the health of the community. Better health arises when the individual feels part of a community and able to participate in the well-being of that society. The Govanhill pool campaign is not just merely about the closure of a valuable local resource, but the saving of a community from the brink of destruction, despair, social deprivation and inequalities that are a common feature in many inner city areas throughout the country.

12.2  Local communities should have the opportunity and a chance to succeed

  Prince William recently came to see for himself problems in Sighthill. The problems gained national attention sadly when a death arose. Although the worst conflict of Govanhill also occurred around that time we did not get a visit. We do not want violent deaths on our streets in order to gain media attention and Royal visits. The pool campaign is a peaceful protest to re-open a much missed and valued local facility. We do need support and encouragement. Forums such as this Select Committee and meeting our pool campaigns gives us strength and determination to persevere for years if necessary.


1.  Help stop institutional vandalism of our National Heritage by encouraging proper community involvement in their future

  It is clear that such examples of institutional vandalism are planned although not discussed long in advance of closure. Before a closure of a local facility is proposed, there needs to be widespread local involvement in the preserving of their local facility. The Government has published ideas concerning best value that the local communities are the best source of ideas to solve local problems. It is right that the local community should be involved. In many examples around the country what has been displayed is apparent cowardly acts of leadership, where elected representatives believe that they have a monopoly on good ideas.

2.  Any consideration of closure should take into account the full social impact on the community

  Government should develop guidelines to ensure that the full impact, (such as health, social exclusion, social and religious factors etc) of the closure of local facilities are properly considered and taken into account.

3.  Proper and accurate assessment of local needs

  The needs and reasonable realistic expectations of the local community need to be properly assessed and considered. It is clearly a waste of finite public resources when local amenities are not what are required or able to use what they are given due to poor consultation.

  There needs to be a real openness and honesty about the problems to generate solutions.

4.  All sources of funding need to be properly considered an evaluated before closure is considered

  All sources of funding need to be considered prior to closure to ensure that limited private and public resources are not squandered due to poor action at the appropriate stage by the relevant authorities. In the case of closed swimming pools adequate security and prevention of water penetration needs to be founded and taken into account.

5.  Lottery funding needs to be more flexible

  The availability of Lottery and other funding needs to be clearly identified and a network of support developed to assist and support local community applications for funding. The threshold needs to be more flexible to take into account local circumstances. This is a very complex area and involved putting together business plans etc that are often abstract to local communities.

6.  Proper accountability from Public bodies giving local Councils funding

  Public bodies providing funding to local community should demand a local accountability from local councils to ensure that funds are used for their intended purpose.

7.  The real impact on swimming groups needs to be considered effectively

  Swimming groups are an important part of widening the sport to a broader appeal enabling young and old to achieve their full potential. Future Olympic champions emerge when they are supported, encouraged and nurtured to achieve their full potential. In the case of Govanhill many of the swimming groups have halved in size, as members are not able to afford the additional transport costs and time needed to travel to new venues.

  The funding of swimming as a sport needs to be considered carefully to ensure that there is a fair distribution of resources at all levels and not just popular or well known cases.

  In Australia where I have just returned in April there is a genuine support at all levels of Government, local councils and communities preventing the likelihood of social exclusion which is now at the heart of Government policy. If a similar approach could be adopted in Britain the quality of swimming in Britain could be dramatically changed.

  The Government and its policies will be assessed on the way it has been delivered. This report from the Calder Street Pool demonstrates that in so many policy documents and reports, Government and public policies are not being implemented at the local council level, in Glasgow and many examples throughout the country.

27 November 2001

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