Former swimming pool makes a splash as a privately-owned women-only gym

Bradford Telegraph and Argus: Manager Helen Moore pictured in the newly renovated gym Manager Helen Moore pictured in the newly renovated gym

The deep end of Manningham’s Edwardian swimming pool retains the original ceramic spittoons and 6ft 6ins markings, but there’s no water lapping against the sides.

The sound of generations of Bradfordians splashing about over the past century is lost within the fabric of the historic building. Now the old pool is filled with high-energy Zumba beats and the rhythmic whirring of cross-trainers.

Designed by Bradford architect Frederick Edwards, Manningham Baths opened in 1904. It was one of hundreds of swimming pools built around the country in the early 1900s, most of which are gone today. With its detailed stonework and intact interior, the Victorian Society called it a “national treasure”.

In 2011 the pool was controversially shut down as part of Bradford Council budget cuts. The Council closed the Grade II listed building looking to save £119,000 a year, claiming the pool was underused and expensive to maintain.

The Manningham Baths Action Committee was set up to try and save it, and campaigners held a candlelit vigil swim. The Victorian Society backed the campaign, describing the building as an “extraordinary intact Edwardian swimming pool.” It named Manningham Baths as one of the country’s top ten most endangered buildings, and successfully appealed to English Heritage for an upgraded Grade II* listed status.

Despite the passionate campaign to save it, and several expressions of interest in taking it on, the Carlisle Road building was closed and later boarded up, after it fell victim to break-ins.

In 2012 it was sold at auction for £85,000 and plans were submitted to convert the building into a gym. Listed building consent was granted for the £750,000 development, with conditions to minimise impact on the pool’s listed fabric.

Now the building has opened its doors as The Curve, a privately-owned women-only gym. Light pours in from roof windows onto the old pool area, which retains the feel of an Edwardian architectural jewel.

The ambitious development has struck a balance between maintaining the pool’s heritage, while creating a fresh, contemporary look. Original features, including ceramic tiling, cast iron pillars and the pool’s stone waterline lip are fused with state-of-the-art gym equipment and facilties including a workout studio, spa, beauty salon and cafe. Spotlights are dotted about on the stone flooring, and the original stone plaque is on the wall of old foot-rinsing cubicles.

The pool is split onto two levels; with the upper floor in what was the shallow end. Known as the ‘Floating Gym’, this area is filled with cardio-vascular training machines. Original white tiling and pool markings are visible around the floor, and steps lead down to the sunken pool floor, now used as a studio for classes such as zumba and ‘stepacise’.

“You’re left in no doubt of its former use as a pool,” said general manager Helen Moore, who remembers using Manningham Baths as a child. “It’s still essentially an intact pool space so at some time in the future it could be re-used. This is a much-loved building and without a renovation it could have become derelict. It has been preserved as a historic building, with a local community use taking it into the future.”

Along one side are original changing cubicles, with ceramic tiling and modern red doors, and behind lies a new changing room and spa area, with a sauna and steam room. The original 110-year-old toilets have been restored, complemented by 21st century showers. Low-hanging wooden beams are a striking feature of the hair and beauty salon, with the original boiler which heated the pool water displayed as a historic feature, painted red. Next door is Cafe Curve, offering healthy food with an East meets West twist.

Sited in the heart of Manningham, the gym is mainly used by Asian women. “Many of these women wouldn’t go to a mixed gym. Here they can take off their headscarves and veils in a female-only environment. There are no men at all – any maintenance work is done after hours,” said Helen.

“This is somewhere women can come to meet up, in a relaxed, friendly environment, and work on their fitness and wellbeing. The gym is used by white, Caribbean and Eastern European women too, but it’s in a predominantly South Asian area and we look at health problems such as diabetes and heart problems. Everyone who joins has a one-to-one induction and is given a tailored programme. It’s approached as a lifestyle change, so we look at nutritional advice and health education as well as exercise. Next month we’re setting up a weight loss club, incorporating healthy cooking. The ethos is on accountability.

“If there’s something the women want we’ll look to set it up, that’s how the Zumba classes came about. We do ‘yogalates’, a mix of yoga and pilates; gym-based boxing; high intensity interval training; ‘danceacise’, and we’ve got a team of staff and members in the Bradford Race of Life in June.

A former cubicle row on the other side of the pool space is now filled with rows of treadmills. Working out on one of these is busy mum Mehrun Nisa, whose son, Aqib Khan, was picked as an unknown schoolboy, aged 14, to star in West is West, the sequel to hit movie East is East. “I joined last week and have been every day – I can tell the difference already,” beamed Mehrun, keeping up speed on the treadmill. “I jump on all the machines, I like it because it’s light and clean and the staff are friendly.”

Above the studio is a mezzanine floor housing more gym equipment. A prayer room is also upstairs.

l For more about The Curve ring (01274) 482247 or visit thecurvefitness.com

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