You are here: Home / About us / News / Latest / Save Jacobs Wells Baths
by sarah last modified 09/03/2023 01:32 PM

Save Jacobs Wells Baths

by sarah last modified 09/03/2023 01:32 PM

Artwork credit ASLS

Trinity CEO Emma Harvey reflects on the importance of community buildings following the news that Jacob Wells Baths is now at risk of being taken out of public ownership.

Jacobs Wells Baths is an asset owned by us. Built in 1889 to serve the working poor, the Grade II Listed building holds within its walls a wealth of of architectural and social heritage - from its time as a public swimming baths to its 30 year history as a dance hub.

This all risks being lost as, in December 2022, leisure company Fusion Lifestyle announced they were pulling out of restoring and managing the space meaning our cash-strapped local authority may now table it for disposal.

The story of this asset is sadly not unusual. A 2019 report by Bristol Cable revealed how Bristol City Council has sold off millions of pounds’ worth of public property as part of their ongoing response to austerity. This local saga is set against a national backdrop dubbed as ‘The Great British Sell-Off’, with local authorities across the UK attempting to combat funding crises through sale of our shared civic and heritage spaces.

"One thing you can say about Bristol is we’re a city that has demonstrated we can take complex heritage assets and transform them into viable community and cultural hubs."

It’s a pattern that shows no sign of stopping in 2023. Bristol faces yet another round of cuts and the pressure’s on to plug a £32m funding gap in whatever way possible. 134 years on from the Baths’ construction, it feels as though Bristol folk are still working hard though still very much the poorer for it.

It’s really easy to reduce these buildings to numbers on a spreadsheet. If we sell Jacobs Wells then the headache as to what to do with it next is finally over. Plus, we get some cash to plug a gap so we can all breathe a temporary sigh of relief until the next cycle of cuts. If you grew up poor it’s actually understandable. I’m sure many of us have memories of our parents pawning what few possessions they’d acquired just to make ends meet. It’s just what you do when you’re broke.

The problem though is that, when our Councils take this same attitude to balancing the books, this robs current and future generations of the assets we own and makes us all collectively poorer. In a city like Bristol, growing in density and diversity, it deprives us of places to come together, connect and share experiences. To learn and grow, to grieve or to celebrate. To keep fit, dance and be merry. To avoid loneliness or just to get out of the cold. Even to problem solve, mobilise and take collective action about the things that matter to us.

What is unusual about Bristol though is that for every Jacobs Wells Baths there are other success stories that run counter to this ‘sold from under you’ narrative. From Spike Island, to Watershed, to the Tobacco Factory, one thing you can say about Bristol is we’re a city that has demonstrated we can take complex heritage assets and transform them into viable community and cultural hubs.

The Trinity Centre is one such building as over the last 15 years we have demonstrated that we can take a big old dilapidated liability and transform it into a celebrated, multi-use arts and community asset.

So what’s stopping us from doing the same with JWB? Even with our track record, groups like Trinity just aren’t treated as serious contenders when the future of assets like Jacobs Wells Baths comes up for discussion. Maybe that’s because we don’t have millions of pounds at our disposal, or maybe its because I look like a Fraggle and talk like the love-child of Russell Brand and Janet Street-Porter. Decision makers just aren’t that great at trusting anyone to solve complex problems if the solution isn’t packaged in received pronunciation and a smart suit.

We don’t do it because we’re told we can’t, are scared to try or don’t believe we can. If we want to change this narrative this doesn’t start with the Council. It starts here and now with us. If we want to save our spaces and protect Jacobs Wells Baths and other shared civic spaces for this and future generations, as citizens we need to come together and say we want one last shot at reimagining a different future.

The Council may be the landlord but these buildings are ours. Once they’re gone they’re gone and there is no going back. We just need to believe for a moment that we can do this Bristol. Let’s put our heads and voices together and make it happen.

Take action today:

Document Actions
Filed under: , ,