‘Save our swimming baths’ campaign shows power of community action, claim victorious Manchester groups

Exclusive by John McDougall

The victorious campaign to save swimming baths across Manchester is being championed as an ‘inspiration’ to communities that they can make a difference.

Manchester City Council performed a dramatic u-turn last week and vowed to keep baths destined for closure in Levenshulme, Withington and Miles Platting open until 2015.

Jeremy Hoad, Levenshulme Community Association secretary and Save Levenshulme Baths and Library group member, feels the immense achievement should act as inspiration to others.

“It’s a fantastic achievement to be able to do this in times of local government being savaged more they have ever been with funding,” he told MM.

“If this can be highlighted, it gives inspiration and hope to other people across the country that campaigns can work and we can actually protect our services.

“What has been so fantastic is the imagination, creativity and dedication of all sorts of people throughout Levenshulme and Gorton.

“It’s still sinking in. It’s one of those things you can’t quite believe you’ve actually won.”

The council announced in January that these baths were destined for closure this year, along with libraries – which are planned to be shut – across Manchester.

The closures are part of £80million worth of spending cuts the council have to make over the next two years as austerity measures come into effect.

But the announcement was met with vehement opposition from communities across the city, sparking protests and demonstrations in the affected areas.

Councillors also voiced their opposition and Julie Reid, a Labour member for Gorton South, was actively involved in the campaign to keep the facilities in Levenshulme open.

“It’s took a long time and it’s been very difficult. If it wasn’t for the Tory-Lib Dem cuts we wouldn’t have even been in this position at all,” she told MM.

“It’s just been amazing. The Levenhulme community are awesome. I just can’t explain how wonderful they are.

“They’ve sustained the work all the way through for no money or anything. They’ve got loads of energy and kept it going.

“There’s been constant and ongoing work in the community. It’s been tremendous and I can’t thank them enough because without them, we couldn’t have done it.”

Protests in Levenshulme against the closures ranged from occupying the facilities to choreographed flashmob dancing outside Manchester Town Hall with Sir Richard Leese masks on.

Reflecting on the u-turn, Mr Hoad feels collaboration across the city was key to the revised decision and believes Levenshulme campaigners were at the forefront of this.

“It’s important we celebrate this victory as a symbol of community action and collaboration with the council to find a practical solution in what are desperate times,” he said.

“Northern large cities have disproportionately high cuts so the challenge was that much greater from the start, so collaboration needs to be that much closer to find a solution.

“Levenshulme has led the way to all the activities and given inspiration to other groups across Manchester to campaign. We’ve stood for with community action and collaboration within other groups.”  

Broadway pool is still earmarked for closure, as are libraries in Burnage, Fallowfield, Levenshulme, Miles Platting, New Moston and Northenden.   

Mr Hoad hopes Levenshulme library can be saved, but concedes finding the £90,000 to keep it open for the next two years will be challenging.

“You could get ten times more people using the library and fundamentally not get any higher income,” he said. 

“That’s why the library case is so much harder to make despite the level of funding being so much lower to keep the building open and staffed.

“It makes it more achievable if we can get small amounts in from a number of different sources to make it possible.”

The formal decision by the council to keep the baths operational until new facilities open in 2015 will be announced next week at a meeting of the council executive next week.

Picture courtesy of Save Withington Baths Group, with thanks.

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