Stirchley Baths has led something of a double life. Since 2016 it has operated as a lively community hub, but the building is full of reminders of its former years as a public swimming baths and wash house. Our heritage tours take you back to 1911 and earlier when the Baths were built to serve a fast-growing local community. There’s also an opportunity to go into the former pool and the tunnels – the only time when this is possible.
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.”