For one day only, Victoria Baths is offering swimmers the opportunity of a lifetime – the chance to enjoy the first public swim in the Grade II listed building since 1993.
Victoria Baths was designed as a prestigious baths complex by Manchester’s first city architect, Henry Price, and opened by Manchester Corporation in 1906. Described as a ‘water palace’ by the then Lord Mayor, the baths provided leisure facilities for 86 years until Manchester city council closed the baths in 1993 and the building was left derelict. Enraged locals formed The Friends of Victoria Baths, and along with Victoria Bath’s Trust, they have been campaigning independently to save it for public use ever since.
In September 2003, Victoria Baths won the BBC’s Restoration programme with a massive 282,018 of the votes. As a result of the win, both Heritage Lottery funding and English Heritage supported the project, raising nearly £4 million in the process. Extensive renovation has seen works to the roof, exteriors and some interior work.
Fully restoring the Turkish baths the next step in the plan towards the full restoration of the building.
The organised swim on Sunday 14 May has been set up as part of a continued fundraising campaign for the Baths, in addition to open days across the summer, and a number of activities taking place in the coming months. An increased awareness of this historic gem is also an aim as it continues to make its journey towards restoration.
Gill Wright, project development manager for Victoria Baths, says, “Lots of people enjoy visiting Victoria Baths, but it is a very rare opportunity for members of the public to be able to swim here. We are hoping to create an experience that enables people to relive the Baths in its heyday, and to demonstrate what a wonderful and unique swimming experience it offers.
“Theatrical performances, artistic installations and the occasion of our 110th birthday have seen the pool filled in recent years, but this is the first time since March 1993 that we’ve had a public swimming event. Looking to the future, our vision is for a time when the pool is fully in use, and we want to give people a taste of how special that will be.”
Swimmers will be able to use the original changing cubicles, which bring a sense of authenticity, but there are no showering facilities or lockers. The water will be heated, but the building isn’t, so swimmers need to come prepared to wrap up warmly after their swim. Thankfully, the tea room will be selling hot drinks including Vimto and Bovril!
“We would suggest that swimmers approach the session as they would an outdoor swim,” says Gill. “B prepared for a cooler temperature, but also a very unforgettable experience.”
Tickets are priced at £15 plus a booking fee and go on sale at midday on Wednesday 12 April at www.victoriabaths.eventbrite.