Campaigners show unity in fight to save Sheffield Victorian bath house as saviour plan deadline looms

Campaigners formed a human chain around a Sheffield Victorian bath house as a sign of unity as the clock ticks down towards when a deadline for their plans.

By Sam Cooper
Monday, 29 July, 2019, 11:18

Dozens of members of the Friends of Birley Spa group linked hands around the 177-year-old Birley Spa Bath House on Sunday as they fight to save the building from being sold off.

The Victorian bath house was put up for sale with a guide price of around £100,000 with ‘no consultation’ campaigners said.

The Friends’ group was set up to keep it in the public’s hands and the council postponed the sale for further talks.

Friends of Birley Spa link arms around the former bath house on Sunday as they fight for the restoration and re-opening of Sheffield's only Victorian Plunge Pool in its own grounds. Picture: Marie Caley

But Victoria Wise, the group’s secretary, said members had been told they had until August 10 to find the money or it would be sold.

She said: “We were trying to show that it’s a community building and we want to save it.

“We’re still waiting for a meeting with cabinet member for neighbourhoods Paul Wood, which is on Monday, August 5 so hopefully after that we’ll know what’s happening.”

Friends of Birley Spa link arms around the former bath house on Sunday as they fight for the restoration and re-opening of Sheffield's only Victorian Plunge Pool in its own grounds.Picture: Marie Caley

Ms Wise said the group had asked for an extension on the August 10 but had not heard back from the council and would raise it at next week’s meeting.

She said: “We have done everything they have asked of us. They asked us to do a business plan, which we have done, but we were told it didn’t bring in enough money.

“We care because there’s so much history and this area was our childhood. Personally, I grew up on there and used to go with my grandparents and seeing the building go to ruin is really sad.

“It’s my children’s history and heritage and I want them to know what it is.”

Friends of Birley Spa link arms around the former bath house on Sunday as they fight for the restoration and re-opening of Sheffield's only Victorian Plunge Pool in its own grounds.Picture: Marie Caley

Coun Wood said campaigners were told they needed to put a business plan together to ensure the building didn’t fall down and had a viable future.

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He said a survey found major problems with the structure, including damp and added there was an urgency to get repairs done before winter.

A lack of access for emergency services also hampered many development ideas, said Coun Wood.

Ms Wise said: “It’s sad because the Victorians have brought this amazing building and with the surrounding woodland too it really is a beautiful place.

“I believe there are gravestones down there which we’re still to find. We need to have an archaeological dig down there so it’s not just about the building, it's a wonderful area with the spa house at the heart of it.”

Speaking at a Cabinet meeting earlier this month Coun Wood said there had been a lot of ‘misleading and untruthful’ information about the council had dealt with a historic building had been hurtful.

He said: “The group has had since the start of this year to get some deal for major funding. We went through their plan which had no viability whatsoever.

“All they had secured was a commitment from someone to take the upstairs floor for £10,000 a year rent. We know the estimated running costs are £30,000 so they didn’t even have enough money to run the building on a yearly figure.

“We asked them to come back with a plan. They came with the same deal so we had to say at that stage: ‘You can’t afford to do the repairs’.

“We have never asked them for a penny for the building. We have made it very clear we are not after a large capital receipt for the building. All we have asked them is to produce a plan to repair and run the building and save its unique heritage. We need that building to be saved.

“We have had continued negotiations over 14 months. It’s misleading as this is not last minute.

“Some of the committee, not all, have come to some realisation that we should give them the building and let them hope they raise the money to retain it. It’s totally irresponsible.

“The council continues to support them. It has to be a joint venture. We have not done anything without them. We have done everything that’s absolutely possible. It’s quite upsetting when we have put so much effort into this.

“This is misleading and untruthful and we have done as good a job as anybody on this council. I have nothing to hide on how we have dealt with this and feel proud of it. We have given this group massive support.”

Birley Spa in Hackenthorpe was built in 1842. In the 1920s and 30s, the grounds were transformed into a playground for children. It is one of the last remaining Victorian bath houses in the north of England.