Byrne Avenue Baths at Rock Ferry was constructed between 1931-3 and was opened on 27 March 1933 in a ceremony led by Councillor W L Milne, Chairman of the Markets & Baths Committee.
The building was constructed to provide two swimming pools, along with slipper baths, club rooms, a lounge and a refreshment room.
The main pool hall was multi-purpose and was used for galas in the summer and as an Assembly Room in the winter. It was also used as a space for concerts, dancing and roller skating, when it was floored over.
The Byrne Avenue Trust was set up to rescue, restore and re-open Byrne Avenue Baths. The first phase of a substantial restoration/renovation is nearing completion and this much-loved building will be opening to the public in September 2021 as a Sports and Community Centre.
The Trust aims to provide a range of sporting opportunities, community activities and social events for our local community whilst preserving and promoting the history and heritage of the building. Sports will include football, badminton, table tennis, netball, walking football and Zumba. There will be healthy activities for everyone, including those who may not have been active for a while.
While parts of the building will reopen in September, funding is currently being raised, by way of a crowdfunder, to open the cafe.
With your help, the Trust is looking to open the “Slipper Baths Cafe” in October this year. The cafe is situated in the old Gents Slipper Baths, a place where local residents used to come and pay a couple of pence to take a hot bath because local houses didn’t have any such facilities. Four of the original slipper Baths are still intact and will be a great feature of the cafe and will be on public view.
birkenhead.news spoke to Jane Richards, Project Manager for the Byrne Avenue Baths Trust, who gave us a guided tour around the building. She explained, “In 2009, people turned up at the door as normal. to find a notice on the door saying that the building was closed. It has been empty and unused since then.”
The local community missed having the baths and so they set up the Byrne Avenue Baths Trust. The first action the trust took was to apply to English Heritage (now known as Historic England) for listing status, to save the building from demolition. Thanks to the trust, The baths, including the boundary wall and railings, is Grade II listed.
The trust then negotiated with the council for a Community Asset Transfer lease which lasts for 99 years, effectively meaning that the local community own and operate the building for 99 years.
With the lease, comes responsibility. The trust is liable for all costs regarding refurbishment, maintenance and operation.
“We got the keys in August 2017 and then we started fundraising and sorting out the architectural plans.”, Jane said. “We started community engagement with local people and local schools and asked them about what they wanted for the building.”
Despite COVID-19 restrictions and the ‘pingdemic’, the refurbishment is steadily progressing, with the first phase set to open in the autumn. Jane is proud of utilising the services of local firms that employ local people.
“One of the things we wanted to do was make sure that the money we have received from national funders stays within the local economy.”
Phase 1 (which opens in the autumn) includes the sports hall, community room, and some of the communal areas. Should the crowdfunder be successful, the cafe will open too.
From day one, when we reopen, the emphasis will be that this is a sports and community centre.
The trust is keen to include everyone in the activities that will take place, no matter if they’re mad-keen on sports, or just fancy a bit of light exercise. The sports hall won’t be only used for sports and Jane is looking forwards to hosting craft fairs, food markets and “maybe even a beer festival!”
Jane is not only enthusiastic about the refurbishment project, and the history of the building, but also has a great vision of what it will be, based on the requirements and requests from the local community – echoing the trust’s mantra of ‘Community, Health, Heritage.’
But this vision will come to fruition sooner with your help. You can make a donation via the crowdfunder page which can be found at https://www.crowdfunder.co.uk/the-slipper-baths-cafe–byrne-avenue-baths
birkenhead.news has donated £1000 of Family Notice listings as one of the rewards for making a donation.
Main image: Jane Richards, Project Manager for the Byrne Avenue Baths Trust, outside the 1930s building. Credit: www.fotopiaimages.com