Whether it’s the local library, the disused cemetery or a decaying pub dating back hundreds of years, local institutions can bring a community together and provide services which we all take for granted.
Bramley Baths is one of them. It’s one of just six Victorian Bath Houses remaining in the country and has survived two world wars, the 1930s depression and countless recessions.
However, this economic downturn may prove to be its downfall.
If local community committee cannot find the cash to keep the public baths and swimming pool afloat by March next year, the Labour dominated council will have to close it.
Leeds’ only female MP, Rachel Reeves, is an emerging force in Westminster. The former economist donned her swimsuit in a campaign to save it earlier this year and has spearheaded a sophisticated campaign to save it.
“It doesn’t make money and as a result it’s on the list for cuts as the Council try and balance its budget,” said Rachel Reeves in an interview with knowyourleeds.
“But I’m not satisfied with that solution. I’m not satisfied because it will mean that it won’t be open for school swimming and it won’t be open in the daytime for older people.”
Local Government funding from the Downing Street is being drastically cut in Leeds. The grant to the council’s budget has been cut by 27% over the next four years. That’s £90 million off the budget this year alone.
Critics however would point to the council’s overspend during the ‘boom years’.
Also, the reduction in opening hours was originally voted for by Labour councillors at the time. When asked about the irony of a Labour MP fighting against Labour council cuts, she said the council have had little choice.
“The people in Leeds didn’t vote for those cuts. The councillors didn’t vote for those cuts. But we’re the ones who have to bear the brunt of them. I would prefer Leeds City Council to continue funding Bramley Baths but we know that’s not realistic,” she said.
Appointed to the shadow chief secretary to the Treasury after just a year as an MP, she believes that the solution to save it is a community asset transfer.
This means the council would still own the building but the day-to-day running of the baths would be handed over to a community group.
The proposal for that will be vetted by the council early next year. And they have to prove that their plan is viable – self-funded – and can keep the 107 year-old building open.
“We’re not willing just to sit back and let the baths wither on the vine, that’s why we’ve taken action. There’s such a buy-in from the local community, particularly from schools who use it for school swimming, that we can make it work,” she said.
As reported in the Guardian Leeds, although similar handover schemes have failed in Garforth and Beeston, successes further afield in Sheffield, Nottingham and South London have convinced some it can work.
The active backing of a determined local MP, who has considerable weight in Parliament, has helped the cause to save it with much needed publicity. But the real challenge will be to develop Bramley Baths into real workable community space which doesn’t need state support.