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8 February 2017

Ahead of the wave

16 years ago the idea of local people taking control of important community assets was little more than a twinkle in the land reformer’s eye. In those days, particularly in our cities, the Council ran the show and when they decided to close down a facility, that was the end of the matter. No question of an asset transfer or making a participation request. How things have changed. So it’s hats off to the folk at Govanhill Baths for having the foresight back then (and the fight) just to say no.  The sounds of splashing have returned.


 

By Catriona Stewart, Evening Times

FOR the first time in 16 years the sound of splashing is being heard in Govanhill Baths.


Campaigners have worked tirelessly to save the Calder Street institution and turn it back into a wellbeing centre.


And now the project has reached a major milestone with swimmers taking to the teaching pool for the first time in more than a decade.


Fatima Uygun, Trust Manager at the Baths, was one of the original campaigners who protested the closure of the Baths when Glasgow City Council shut them in 2001.


She said: "Sitting in here during the first day of the pool being opening hearing squeals and laughter and a few tears from cranky wee ones, swimming and splashing in there, learning to swim, was fantastic.


"We had babies from 12 weeks old with their parents to Muslim women who don't have anywhere else to swim and in the evening we had children from three to seven years learning to swim - so a wide range of people in using it.


"We are only small but served 48 people on our first two days. It is an unbelievable achievement."


On January 6, 2001 the Evening Times announced the closure of Govanhill Baths, putting an end to a year of rumours.


Then council leader Charlie Gordon confirmed the rumours in this paper, saying it would close on March 23.


Fatima was born in Turkey, grew up in Australia and now lives in Glasgow.


She said: "I'm a committed socialist and I believe that people like me, working class people, deserve good facilities.


"When I came to Govanhill and I found these baths, which were open at the time, being a Turkish girl I was really keen to learn about the Turkish baths so I used to come on women's nights and fell in love with the place.


"Then rumours started, we started to hear that the place would be closing down.


"We were appalled. It didn't make sense. This place was really well utilised and the reaction was 'this will not stand'."


Local people rallied to the cause and refused to let the building go without a fight - there was a 30,000-signature petition, a march and, finally, the building was occupied by protestors.


A dawn raid on August 7 ended the occupation but the fight kept up and in 2003 the Govanhill Baths Community Trust was formed.


Many of the board have been involved since the beginning and support for the community facility has never wavered.


Fatima said: "There's a real family atmosphere in Govanhill Baths and that keeps you going. The board still has quite a few original campaigners on it and we all live within a mile of the Baths.


"That commitment and dedication has kept us going.


"We have had so much support, from the people who during the protests used to drive past and give money to the picket line to artists and celebrities who support us to local community groups who have made enormous sacrifices in order to direct funding towards us.


"We are eternally grateful for that."


Govanhill Baths will close at the end of the year for a refurbishment, dubbed Phase 1b.


The £5.5million scheme will see the building regenerated to form two swimming pools, a cafe, slipper baths and community space.


It will take around a year to complete and there is still £1m to raise to add to funds given by Heritage Lottery Fund, Big Lottery, Historic and Environment Scotland and Glasgow City Council.


Phase 1a, the reception area and art and theatre spaces in the Baths, opened by Hollywood actor Peter Mullen and now-First Minister Nicola Sturgeon in February 2012.


Alan Walsh, chairman of the Trust, said: "Following the refurbishment of Phase 1b our next step would be to try and get the main pool opened - but that could take four or five years.


"For now, as Fatima says, we are we are delighted the teaching pool is now open."


Fatima predicts the newly-opened pool will stay busy.


She added: "We are also working closely with the NHS to help people who really need secluded surroundings to learn to swim - people who are vulnerable.


"Everyone has the right to learn to swim and a community pool like this can serve a whole variety of people, not just people who want to go and have a good time."

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