In Haunt

Manchester’s much-loved heritage building Victoria Baths has launched a Crowdfunder to seek support, as it struggles to cope with the stopping of visitors and lack of crucial income resulting from the Covid-19 closure of venues. Victoria Baths Trust is asking its supporters to Back the Baths: www.crowdfunder.co.uk/backthebaths

Victoria Baths Above: Victoria Baths Exterior Shot © Andrew Billington Photography

Tourism is a crucial source of funding for many heritage sites, and the absence in current conditions in turn places a number of buildings in a precarious position. Victoria Baths – a Grade II* listed Edwardian bathhouse designed by Manchester’s first City Architect Henry Price, opened in 1906 and located just outside the city centre – is run by a charitable trust and relies upon the money raised from events and visitors to stay open, as well as to complete crucial maintenance and restoration work. The Crowdfunder is therefore an alternate way of showing support, and every little helps.

According to Jill Earnshaw, Chair of the Victoria Baths Trust:

“The timing of this unprecedented situation could not be worse for Victoria Baths.  Between spring and autumn is when the building is alive with events, activities and tours. Like so many small heritage organisations, our existence relies upon the building being actively used by people for events and activities.

“We know that the impact of Covid-19 has affected the lives of everyone and made this immensely difficult for so many organisations and individuals, in lots of different ways.  Our appeal is to ask our supporters, if they are able, to donate what they might have spent in visiting Victoria Baths or enjoying one of our events.

“All funds raised will sustain the organisation’s skeleton operation until we’re able to open again for events and tours. We’ve taken every opportunity to reduce costs and secure alternative income before asking for donations. Any support that people can give will make a considerable difference.”

Gala Pool Above: Victoria Baths, Gala Pool

Victoria Baths after all has a long history of supporting the community, and in turn, the community supporting it back. Described as a ‘water palace’ when it first opened in the early twentieth century, it provided swimming, bathing and leisure facilities for the people of Manchester for 87 years, including what was the first public Aeratone – a Jacuzzi! Maintaining such an elaborate building was a challenge and the baths sadly closed in 1993, although local people have been working to save it for public use ever since, including the crucial work of Victoria Baths Trust and the Friends of Victoria Baths.

Support has spread far further afield too. This was highlighted in particular back in September 2003, when Victoria Baths won the BBC’s landmark series Restoration, with a massive 282,018 votes from all across the country in favour of saving it. This led to The National Lottery Heritage Fund giving £3 million to restore the building and the BBC’s Restoration Fund raised nearly £500,000 in addition.

The combination of support and funding in turn has allowed key parts of the building to reopen in recent years, and it has since been used as a filming location, concert venue and visitor attraction –as well as opened for swimming on rare occasions! It is known for its iconic red-brick exterior, beautiful tiling within, examples of stained glass, and Gala Pool, amongst other highlights.

A significant part of the building’s cultural programme revolves around visitors, popular guided tours and events. For example, as the building cannot operate a visitor programme during the colder months, Spring 2020 was set to be the launch of a full season of exciting content – now sadly cancelled until the end of May at least, in consideration of the public health situation. This has meant the cancellation of the highly-anticipated SpringFest 2020 at the end of April – a full weekend of live music, a makers market, family fun and more, which was set to have a huge range of visitors through the doors.

Victoria Baths Stained GlassAbove: Victoria Baths Angel with surround © Jon Parker Lee

In turn, backing the baths in whatever way possible right now will make a significant difference – with the Back the Baths Crowdfunder running until 1 May 2020. Tokens of appreciation and rewards are available for those who donate, including guided building tours (when the building re-opens), a colouring card (of its famous Angel of Purity stained glass window), postcards of the building to send to friends, annual membership to the Friends of Victoria Baths and more.  Further details are available here: www.crowdfunder.co.uk/backthebaths

By Emily Oldfield 

Images provided by Victoria Baths, credits in the captions above

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