Community groups debate the future of Health Hydro in Swindon

The leisure co-operative Greenwich Leisure Limited (GLL), which runs Health Hydro in Swindon, is considering developing flats within the premises. The decision has sparked controversy within the local...

The leisure co-operative Greenwich Leisure Limited (GLL), which runs Health Hydro in Swindon, is considering developing flats within the premises.

The decision has sparked controversy within the local community, with some groups criticising the plans to alter the inside of the Victorian building, based in the centre of Swindon. Health Hydro includes a 33m 4-lane swimming pool, a gym, Turkish baths and a Natural Health Clinic.

GLL says developing flats is only one option it is exploring to secure the long-term sustainability of the Health Hydro. But community activists oppose the idea on the ground that the flagship building carries historical relevance.

Geraint Day, member of Swindon Civic Voice and New Mechanics Institution Trust, said: “GLL proposes substantial changes to the Swindon Health Hydro.

“The Hydro is significant locally and nationally as it is associated with a mutual organisation that in many ways helped in the creation of the NHS. That was the Great Western Railway Medical Fund Society, set up in 1847 by the town’s railway workers.

“Many local people and heritage groups are concerned that the GLL proposals will damage or destroy a substantial part of this heritage.”

Jamie Coleshill, GLL’s regional director for Swindon, said: “We are establishing a working group, which will include representatives from GLL, the council, heritage groups and swimming clubs to investigate ways in which the Health Hydro could be secured for the long term.

“The Health Hydro leisure/residential concept is just one option to consider in order to secure the future of the building. The Hydro needs significant investment to maintain the fabric of the building, which is in poor repair, and to bring the facilities up to 21st century standards.”

Greenwich Leisure Limited (GLL), a staff-led Leisure Trust, was set up as an Industrial and Provident Society with a board consisting of elected staff, council members, a trade union representative and customers.

It runs local leisure facilities on behalf of Swindon Borough Council, which owns the building. Profits generated are reinvested into the service and the community.

Mr Coleshill added: “We recognise the need to respect the heritage of the Hydro and our aim is to secure the building for leisure and community use for the next 50 years.  Attracting and maintaining members is therefore key to any new offer.

“Housing is just one option that could be explored, but it is by no means the only option. It is clear that the local community is passionate about the building, so by working with key community figures we hope that we can find a sustainable future for the Health Hydro. To be clear, we are very receptive to alternative ideas and welcome all viable options.”

Robert Buckland, MP for South Swindon, chaired a meeting of local groups to discuss the issue.

Back in October the Mechanics Institute Trust submitted a bid to register the site as an Asset of Community Value under the Localism Act. The bid was recently approved by the Swindon Council’s deputy leader Russell Holland.

Mr Buckland said: “At the meeting, I emphasised the need to respect the views of the local community when it comes to considering the future of this important building.

“This is not just about bricks and mortar – many of us here in Swindon have an emotional stake in the Health Hydro, which is a place where we, or our children, learnt to swim. The Milton Road Baths are one of the few remaining working Victorian Baths left in the UK, so this is an asset of national importance too.

“A frank and lively discussion took place. The views of local swimming groups and heritage groups were heard and important dialogue will continue through a working group, which was established last month.

“I will continue to stay in close contact with all of those concerned and want to see a range of options properly explored so that an outcome is reached that our community can support.”

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