I had a wonderful time today at Stirchley Baths, not just the spiralised courgette in my salad at the cafe, but seeing the baths coming together as a functioning building and seeing ideas and proposals from the development phase becoming a part of the building. All this while working on the ‘welcome mat’ project. The welcome mat stems from earlier work in Stirchley by Place Prospectors whose work during Stirchley Prospects found material relating to the use of Stirchley Baths as a ballroom in the post war years; the pool being covered over for ‘super non-stop dancing’ and that dancing happened to Den Jones and his Dance Orchestra.
The Stirchley Tea Dance group who used to be based in the old Stirchley community centre have agreed to work with me on the process of making the mat, I’m going to record their steps as they dance the dances that would have happened during this time, which is fondly remembered and a source of local pride.
It was great to meet Emma Larkinson and Jayne Murray from Place Prospectors to hear all about a piece of artwork they’ve been commissioned to produce as part of the project to bring Stirchley Baths back into use as a community hub.
The first will be a piece of participatory art that will be started in June when the funding bid to the Heritage Lottery Fund (HLF) is submitted. It will be called (somewhat fittingly at this critical stage in the project) ‘Sink or Swim’ and will require lots of community participation, so we’ll keep you updated on the details for this so you can get involved.
The second piece of artwork will be housed inside the community hub and Emma and Jayne have a number of ideas that they’re working up. They talk about them in detail in the interview but some ideas include:
Signs made of glitterboard (a material that moves and ripples gently, giving an appearance of water) to direct people from the rear of the Baths to the entrance at the front
There is space in the entrance lobby for a welcome mat. In fact, an indentation in the floor shows clearly where the original would have been. Emma and Jayne are thinking of making a new welcome mat
Remember the ceremonial key that was used to open the Baths in 1911? A new one could be made to mark the re-opening of the building as a community hub
Emma and Jayne are looking to utilise the bore hole in the Baths. When it opened, the original plan was to well for water but, unfortunately, a source was never found
Jenny Barnwell was taken to Stirchley Baths as a five-year-old by her parents as soon as they arrived back in Britain from a holiday in Spain.
Jenny had been paddling in the Costa del Sol sea when she was sucked into the ocean by a wave. Luckily, she was “spat back out again” but the terrifying experience made her parents enrol her for swimming lessons.
Jenny wrote this on her hand to support the Stirchley Baths community hub project: “I learned to swim here in 1960 after a close shave – I nearly drowned in the sea at Costa del Sol.”
Mark Sloane from Acivico drew up the plans for the community hub at Stirchley Baths following community consultation and involvement.
The plans (which were approved by Birmingham City Council’s planning committee in March) were a real challenge – how to preserve the building’s historical features while making sure the building is fit for its new purpose in the 21st century?
Mark talks about how the swimming pool – although boarded over for the main hall of the community hub – will still be a central feature, as will lots of other features. For example, the reception kiosk, where people would have paid to swim or to take a bath, will be maintained and restored.
As well as conserving the building’s heritage, Mark says the plans also incorporate elements from the original plan for the Baths that were drawn up in the 1900s. A second cupola, much taller than the one that stands at the entrance to the building, was lost at some point in the building’s history, as was a clock. Both will be recreated as part of the community hub project. And both would never have been discovered if it wasn’t for the original, century-old plans (which we hope to get on to the site for you to have a look at very soon).