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Victoria Baths opens up for free as part of National Heritage Open Day scheme

By James Booker

A Manchester heritage site has opened its doors free of charge for members of the public, as part of National Heritage Open Days scheme.

Victoria Baths, a name many will be familiar with due to its victory in the first of the BBC’s ‘Restoration’ programmes in 2003, played host to visitors of all ages on Friday, and will continue to do so over the weekend.

The Edwardian building, which opened in 1906, had to close in 1993 because of the damage that it had endured over the years.

However, due to its success in the BBC campaign, it was awarded £3.4million to repair its damaged state, and was subsequently re-opened.

Some of the visitors recall fond memories of the baths from their youth. John, 66, originally from Victoria Park, said: “I learned to swim at these baths when I was younger. To let it go to rack and ruin was very sad”.

Harry, 86, from Rusholme, added: “Not only did I learn to swim here, but I also came most weeks for the dances. I can still here the instructor’s voice in my head!”

There was also signs of regret that perhaps more isn’t being done to preserve the local and national heritage. Margaret, 87, from Wythenshawe, said: “Things aren’t built to last any more, they are built to function, then thrown away.

“There’s no attention or care that goes into the way things look or to their sentiment, everywhere is just big grey buildings.”

However, Steve Helme, Volunteering and Finance Officer with the site, commented on the steps that were being made to mix some of the old and the new.

“It is important to maintain the Baths’ heritage in order to understand the social history of Manchester. They were originally opened as part of a campaign to encourage hygiene with the everyday people of the area.”

He also talked of the ways in which the site attracted all sorts of visitors in a variety of different ways. “We have everything from children’s activity days to Zumba classes!” he said.

Last year’s visitor numbers were amongst the highest yet, and Steve is hopeful of attracting the younger generations: “The next audience don’t have direct memories of the Baths in their heyday, so it is important to give them some of their own.

“I’m confident that this heritage site will attract audiences well into the 21st century.”

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