Users say Goodbye to Newcastle City Pool & Turkish Baths, amongst first services closed due to City Council Budget Cuts

Monday 25 March 2013

Swimmers and bathers in Newcastle plan a day of goodbyes as Newcastle City Pool and Turkish Baths are the first services and public building to close due to Newcastle City Council Budget Cuts.

Regular users are upset that the city plan to close both the Pool and Baths for public use on Thursday 28 March 2013, just 22 days after the budget was ratified by the council, without exploring other options to keep it open such as improved marketing or a community trust.

Staff working at the pool face either redeployment to other city leisure services (many of which are also scheduled to close) or redundancy.

In an afternoon and evening of celebration and mourning, regular users are plan to present staff with cakes and flowers in thanks for their hard work, friendliness and cheerfulness, which have made these facilities the healthy, welcoming heart of the city. All are welcome to join in with thanks and tributes to the staff between 4 and 5.30pm on Thursday 28 March, followed by music and poetry. The public are invited to join in last public swimming session between 5.30 and 6.20pm in fancy dress costumes if they wish to create a carnival atmosphere.

Charles Gordon is one the Over-60s Higgs Boson Swimmers Group, who will be going for their final swim at City Pool on Thursday morning. The group of retired men who first met at the Swimming Pool enjoy each others’ company, support each other through good and bad, visit each other at home and in hospital when needed, and keep fit with regular swimming.

Charles explained:

“I swim five times a week. The chaps I see at the baths are nearly all retired people… from a mix of backgrounds, location and education. We laugh with each other and support each other, wind each other up and commiserate when the need arises… We are just ‘ordinary people’ trying to make ends meet, trying to get along on our pensions and trying to keep fit and mentally alert…. The loss of our pool is for us, a sign of the total hopelessness of the state of our country…. We swimmers will find another pool in which to swim, but our country may never recover from yet another example of a valued service being ripped savagely and mercilessly from our desperate grasp.”

Charles and the group collected £100 which they presented to the pool staff for their final night out last Saturday.

Users have been campaigning for Newcastle City Council to keep the City Pool & Turkish Baths open until other options to manage them effectively have been explored.

Turkish Bath campaigner Joan Hewitt said:

The Baths have been scandalously under- promoted for years and that is why they are underused. Millions are being spent on improving Central station as the gateway to the City; yet a facility that should be promoted as a top visitor attraction, as Harrogate and Carlisle have done, is neglected. The danger is that once closed, they will stay closed and fall into disuse. Any private company who buys them will have no loyalty to the people of Newcastle and no incentive to maintain public sector prices for residents, alongside the price rises for spa treatments which our campaign survey has shown that students, business people, and out- of-town users and visitors would happily support. The council say they are investigating a Leisure Trust option. Let those MPS and councillors who say they deeply regret this loss ensure the Baths are reopened; and soon. Use them or lose them.”

Actress Charlie Hardwick, a regular user of the Turkish Baths, added:

“I can’t believe that this great city will lose its municipal swimming pool and the magnificent and unique Turkish Baths and sauna that nestle beneath.  Surely the health and well-being of its citizens is paramount? The Labour Council should be utterly ashamed of itself and fighting tooth and nail to find ways to save it.  Just like we are.”

Support for the City Pool & Turkish Baths has come from users across the city, the region and the globe.

Photographer Sirkka-Liisa Konttinen who has lived in Newcastle since arriving in the 1970s added:

“For someone coming from the Finnish sauna culture, The Turkish Baths in Newcastle have offered me the warmest welcome in this city where the bitter winds bite into your bones like no frost dares. I have been coming to the baths for some forty years, and in its many-chambered sanctuary met up with friends, their friends, daughters, daughters’ friends and friendly strangers for talk and quiet, my space and their space blending happily in the blur of the steam.  When travelling abroad, we search for the ancient souls of the cities and are disappointed to come across a yet another Starbucks and the chain shop shopping malls. If that is all Newcastle in the end has to offer, why bother coming here?”

Sarah Campbell, Councillor for City of North Bay, Ontario, Canada wrote to Newcastle City Council:

“You have a building that would be cost prohibitive to replace with all its historical features alone, and to loose this, for this shortfall is beyond ridiculous. I can only dream of having such an asset on which to market quality of life and economic development, and business with pleasure with advertising that really catches the eye. You have a gem, and a marketing asset. It’s beyond comprehension to close its doors.”

Ironically, the past few weeks have seen the Turkish Baths have extra-ordinary high numbers of visitors as regular users make the most of them before they close and new visitors discover them, due to the publicity that their closure is attracting.

Campaigners filled the Swimming Pool to capacity for a public Swim-in event on 26 January 2013 and regular users are also campaigning to keep the pool and facilities open.

The Labour-led Newcastle City Council will close City Pool & Turkish Baths on Thursday 28 March 2013 as part of their three year budget measures to save £100 million pounds, which have been passed onto them by National Government. Newcastle City Council spend £360,000 per year to subsidise the City Pool and Turkish Baths but admit that better marketing and cost saving measures could decrease that figure.

Five play centres in Newcastle will also close on the same day. Further services including local libraries, leisure centres, youth and play services are also scheduled to close over the next three years.