By John Baron
Community led Bramley Baths has overcome ‘scary moments’ during the pandemic to have its most financially successful year since becoming an independent enterprise almost a decade ago.
The Baths have been run independently since 2013 and its AGM last night heard that the community enterprise has gone from strength to strength as it prepares for a tough winter in light of the cost of living crisis.
Chair of trustees Nick Quin told the AGM that 2021-2022 had been a strong year of progress operationally, financially and in supporting the community. This follows ‘significant disruption’ caused by the Covid-19 pandemic on the Grade II-Listed Edwardian swimming pool, gym and studio.
The facility generated a £218,000 surplus, supported by an increase in memberships, offering new classes and activities and investing in state-of-the-art cardio gym equipment.
Bramley Baths CEO David Wilford said: “We have worked tirelessly to get the Baths moving forwards and the future is looking bright. Financial stability has allowed us to concentrate on our work in the community and to increase our working with partners and vulnerable people.”
Bramley & Stanningley councillor Kevin Ritchie (Lab) hailed the ‘remarkable story’ of the Baths. He told the meeting: “Bramley Baths is a beacon for how society in general should be, from working with babies through to supporting older people, bringing people together, paying the real living wage and developing staff.
“Thank you for what you have done. Bramley Baths should be a blueprint for our nation in how to run a social business.”
Trustee Julie Badon said she thought ‘we were going to lose the Baths’ during the Covid pandemic and hailed the ‘massive strides’ made over the past 12 months.
Vice chair Cllr Caroline Gruen added: “Commitment has been the key. Volunteers on the board were meeting three or four times a week for a few months just to try and keep the Baths afloat. We didn’t know whether we would be here on a week-to-week basis. Staff have worked so hard. It’s been a remarkable turnaround.”
The meeting watched a video about the Bramley Big Apple project, which has seen the Baths work with Bramley Elderly Action and local GPs to help socially isolated older people keep active following the Covid-19 pandemic. Other successful projects included employability and gym sessions for young people.
Cost of living crisis
Baths chair Nick Quin said the Baths was on a ‘good fixed deal’ in terms of its energy usage as costs nationally continue to soar. “I think the admission prices we offer are sustainable. We aim to be better value than the council and hope that people can still afford to come,” he said. “As a board we will keep it under review as our first job is to ensure that this place stays open.
“We would always look to help people on low incomes and we will continue to do that.”
Mr Quin thanked volunteers, the Friends of Bramley Baths, customers and staff for their ongoing support.
David Wilford added that the Baths had worked hard to reduce its gas and electricity usage over the past couple of years. New more efficient and reliable boilers had been introduced before the pandemic, and the air temperature has been reduced on poolside.
The Baths have also become more energy efficient by installing LED sensor lighting in parts of the building.
Looking to the future, £135,000 has been reserved towards an estimated £1.7 million package of long-term improvements to preserve the Edwardian building over the next five to ten years, with the board exploring different funding options.
The Baths board is also looking to secure investment to refurbish and re-open the steam room, which closed when the pandemic struck two years ago.
2023 will mark the tenth anniversary of the Baths being saved from closure and becoming independent from the council. Bosses are looking to organise a number of community events to celebrate the landmark, including the return of the popular News Year’s Day dips, which see people jumping into the pool fully clothed in fancy dress.
The AGM was preceded by a minute’s reflection in memory of Queen Elizabeth II at the request of the Baths’ honorary president Sir John Battle.