Monday, 6 February 2012

United we will swim!

A good few years ago, when I'd first arrived in Glasgow, I had a lovely Wednesday evening routine. I would meet up with my friend and colleague who stayed locally from me and we'd go to the ladies night in our local swimming pool. It was a fabulous weekly treat, right in the middle of the working week. First we went for a swim in the wonderful Victorian bath, and it's dim lightening which so reminded me of traditional Turkish baths. Next up was a session in the Sauna, a dip into ice cold water, some steaming in the steam room too. There were always sociable and interesting people to chat to in the sauna, and it was nice and inclusive where everyone felt comfortable with everyone else. The evening was finished off with a yoga class. It was pure bliss.

And then they closed the pool.

I tried to keep up the routine at other locations, but nothing was the same, nor did the distance to travel do any good for having a weekly routine.
When the pool was announcing the plan to be closed, we were instantly gutted. Such a beautiful historic building, right in the centre of the maybe most densely populated part of Glasgow. It didn't make sense. While we were gutted, others were up in arms. On the day the pool closed, people chained themselves to the building so it couldn't close. It was then occupied for weeks. No, months. There was a vigil 24/7. I did but a couple of meagre day time shifts, but there were many who for months spent hours and nights in front of the building.

The campaign to save our pool made me think about what it was that I liked about it. I'd never rationalised it but the campaign bit by bit did. The inclusivity was due to it being right in the centre of a very diverse area of Glasgow, which traditionally is an area where people who come into Glasgow from other countries settle. It's an area not too far from the centre, with lots of local shops, a self contained part of the city, close to a wonderful park yet with house and rent prices that are affordable because the tenements of the area are old and not greatly looked after, with no gardens, so they are not the same quality compared to those nearby, partly because many aren't owner occupied. Lots of migration to the area meant that middle class folk preferred to move somewhere else. There were homeless hostels nearby and yet, the shops run by people from many countries provide all you can ask for, and having lived there, I felt safe and snug there. The pool was right in the centre of it, and its Victorian built meant that it was perfect for anyone who didn't want to display their body to the public. There are no windows and the changing areas and ways to the sauna were separate for women and men. I wasn't conscious of it, but admittedly being body conscious it must have played a part in my choice of pool. And yes, it was the one place where I had conversations with total strangers, some disabled, some of different skin colour, of different faiths and different backgrounds to mine. I didn't find it worth mentioning at the time, it was only later, in the pool of the neighbouring council, where the middle class population won't talk to strangers, that I noticed what was lost.

The campaign went on. A charity shop was set up, fundraising continued, the Govanhill Swimmers went around the neighbourhood in swimsuits practicing their swimming on dry land, i.e. the streets of Govanhill. There was a community garden. A local councillor was elected to push the case in the council. A singing group was established who penned songs about the pool and its closure to well known melodies. There were art projects too.

And so it went on.

On Saturday, 11 years (!) after the pool shut its doors to the public, it was once again opened to the community. It marked an extraordinary victory. And yes, victory it is. I hate to use words like that, but 11 years of relentless campaigning and the refusal to give in and continue to campaign for what we all knew was right paid off. As much as the powers that are had decided to take away the one community facility this empoverished yet vibrant part of Glasgow had, that decision was wrong and the pool is once more open to the community. Still dry, it has entered the first phase of being developed into a Wellbeing Centre. In maybe a year and a half or so we will hopefully be able to swim in it again, and I can show my girls where mummy used to swim. I so can't wait.

It was very emotional seeing the huge crowd who turned up for the opening, and being able to see the pool from the inside again after 11 years. It seemed like nothing had changed, yet so much had, so much effort for this moment to happen. Govanhill, for all that counts, is richer for having gone through this community campaign and stands as a glowing example what community power and persistence can achieve, even if the politicians have turned their backs on Govanhill.

Oh yeah, Peter Mullan and Nicola Sturgeon opened it. It's good to have some well known people support the baths and to get the launch into the news, but the work was done by the campaigners. So I didn't take there photo, sorry.


PantsWithNames said...

Fantastic - so wonderful that people didn't quit campaigning and even better that after 11 years you all got it re-opened.

This post has quite made my day. You should all be so proud. x

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Redspect said...

"If you haven't any charity in your heart you have the worst kind of heart trouble" to cure it
Help people, let's unite for one good cause, be a volunteer"save lives"! mawaddainternationalaid



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