Local heritage: Bon Accord Baths
Fiona Stevenson, a marketing volunteer with Bon Accord Heritage, discusses the campaign to restore the city’s art deco baths to its former glory…
The Bon Accord Baths opened on 30 August 1940. It’s one of the country’s leading examples of 1930s Art Deco pool design. Bon Accord Baths was on a scale never before seen outside of London and reporters described the facility as ‘a cathedral for swimming‘. It had the deepest indoor pool in Scotland, a concrete diving tower, underwater lighting, incredible windows and a curved roof. Even the mosaic tiles were made in Italy and laid by hand. It’s category B listed and rated as one of the most impressive art deco leisure buildings in the UK. Sadly, it’s now on the Buildings at Risk register, which is why Bon Accord Heritage was set up to save and restore the building.
When it opened it was seen as a bit of a wartime morale-booster. The pool had a large spectator area for swimming competitions, but also a private bathing area which provided locals the ability to wash at a time when having a bathroom in the home wasn’t the norm. There was also a Turkish Baths suite with medicated baths, a solarium and a lounge.
It’s the memories that makes this building so special for generations of Aberdonians. The building holds a very special place in many people’s hearts.
Budget cuts meant that the baths closed in 2008. In 2015, the site was offered for sale and a group of people interested in restoring the baths formed Bon Accord Heritage. Despite being empty for so long, the building was in better shape than expected, and a Memorandum of Understanding was agreed with the council. We plan to reopen the building as a community-led art deco leisure centre. Plans are still being worked on and we welcome views from the community.
The aim is to maintain as many of the historic features which make the Baths special as possible, whilst also benefitting from modern technology and efficiencies to run the building in a cost-effective and sustainable way. We envisage several different-sized spaces for a range of uses, a café and of course an upgraded health suite and restored pool.
The biggest problem we’ve faced is vandalism and urban explorers breaking in because they think the site is abandoned. This has led to the destruction and theft of original features, attempted fire starting, abusive graffiti and windows being left open to the elements as well as pigeons. We now have daily patrols and improved security.
Bon Accord Heritage is a registered charity that involves people from all walks of life who share a passion for the Bon Accord Baths. We are hoping to raise funding and also get work done at a cost-limit on price by volunteers – no profit is made as project is for the community. We’re keen that the building remains a community hub, and so are inviting readers to our next Open Weekend on Saturday 12 and Sunday 13 June, from 10am to 4pm. Visitors to the Baths will be able to learn more about its history and share ideas on its future use.
Although we have been able to make progress through volunteer help and the support from local specialist businesses, donations to help make the building wind and watertight are welcome, for which we have a crowdfunding page – uk.gofundme.com/f/save-bon-accord-baths.
The public support we’ve received has been phenomenal. Bringing the baths back to life would be a great asset for the city.