THE last time I stood in the Ladies Pool in Govanhill Baths it was bedecked with flowers, hot pink snapdragons spilling out of the changing stalls and luminous sunflowers peering down to the tiled surface below.

Today the space is entirely unrecognisable.

A spiderweb of scaffolding starts in the base of the pool and rises, criss-crossing, up 30ft into the roof.

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The Glasgow Times was given exclusive access to the Calder Street building as work to transform the historic baths into a health and wellbeing centre is at the halfway mark.

And we saw how the inside of the Edwardian building is being dramatically altered.

From hosting Doors Open Day – hence all the flowers – to swimming sessions, weddings, theatre performances, archery lessons, cooking, pottery lessons and countless more events, Govanhill Baths has been a hub of activity since the re-opening of the front suite of the building in 2012.

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But a major refurbishment, which started in March last year, will see the building utterly transformed into a multi-purpose community hub.

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Set against the backdrop of the pandemic and political changes brought by Brexit, David Cook, project director for Govanhill Baths, said the work has been challenging yet, despite some unexpected issues with the building, the work is on track to be finished by this winter.

The change to the building, which was shut by Glasgow City Council in 2001, is going to be dramatic.

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David said: “What we’re doing in this phase is refurbishing the whole of the envelope, removing walls, reorganising the entrance and in the ground floor putting in offices and a community cafe and a new stair rising up to what’s known as ‘the bridge’, which will provide more accommodation for the community to use.

“The most important bits are re-opening the Ladies Pool and restoring it to its former glory and really bringing back swimming for adults into the pool, into the building, and the learner’s pool is being brought back in to use.

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“And there’s an awful lot of work going into the skin of the building, the roof lights are all being repaired or replaced and the roof coverings, so the building will be fit for decades to come.

“It’s over 100 years old so it will be fit for hopefully another 100 years.”

Certain sections of the building, such as the main pool and the steamie, will be fully refurbished at a later date.

They are being made safe and upgraded during the first phase of works and will be available for “meantime uses”, just as they are currently.

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Upstairs in the building the former slipper baths are to be turned into a gym and dance studio.

Two of the original baths are being maintained as baths so they can still be used for washing.

Currently, walls are being broken down and sections of the building removed while the concrete that forms the structure of the baths is, in places, being reinforced. David said: “We’ve found there’s been more repair needed than we had thought to the concrete.

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“There’s been damage caused by plant work to bricks.

“It’s just all the stuff that goes around in an old building.”

He added: “A huge part of the work is also taking in heating, ventilation and toilets and, very importantly, a changing places space which is used for disabled people of all age groups to change.

“There’s not enough of those in Glasgow and we want to make the place fully inclusive for the people of the community.

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“There is so much diversity in the community in Govanhill so this will be used by Roma groups and it will be a community of communities and the intention is that everyone can meet here without barriers.”

There is also a plan for Cathcart Road’s The People’s Pantry to move to a permanent location in the corner of the steamie, which will give the shop a purpose-built new space in the heart of the community.

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David said: “It’s going to be a really amazing, vibrant place, even though bits are being kept for future development.”

When the local authority took the decision to shut the baths in 2001, there was fury from the local community and a mass movement to save the building.

This led to the longest occupation of a public building in UK history as campaigners moved in and took over Govanhill Baths in a bid to prevent the closure.

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That effort failed but Govanhill Community Baths Trust was formed and a group of local people have worked for the past 20 years to raise enough money to see the building re-open.

Watching the work get underway has been emotional for those involved in the ongoing campaign.

David said: “For those who’ve been involved for up to 20 years, the phase the building’s at in terms of things being taken out and walls broken through, is a bit upsetting because the building’s being remade.

“For those of us involved in construction, that’s just a necessary part.

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“But for other people, while they’re delighted it’s happening after so much time, it is emotional.

“It is emotional for the fact it is finally happening after people were on the picket line all those years ago.”

David, a surveyor, has spent his career working in the cultural and social sector helping create and manage buildings.

He ran WASPS Studios for 20 years and was instrumental in the refurbishment of the Briggait in the Merchant City.

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Govanhill Baths, he says, is particularly special given the focus of the local community working to support a community building.

For those who aren’t hands-on involved, there have been ways to show support financially, such as a Community Shares programme.

Currently, Govanhill Baths Community Trust is running a scheme to allow supporters to sponsor a tile that will form part of a mural inside the baths.

Artwork is also integral to the transformation of the building with a new mural being created for the Ladies Pool by Turner Prize nominee Nathan Coley.

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David is also local, living in Strathbungo, and said he felt compelled to pitch for the job given how near to home the baths are.

He said: “After doing things all across Scotland it feels good to do something so close to home.

“It’s part way through so it looks and feels a long way from being finished but it’s going to be brilliant when we can invite people back in.

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“Everyone involved really feels it’s important that we are producing something great for the community and that goes right through the construction team, the design team and the whole community team.

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“We want to produce something the community is proud of and the community deserves.”

One of the consistent themes during the redesign of Govanhill Baths was creating a community hub of high quality, using ambitious design.

David believes the work underway will give the area a venue to be proud of – and perhaps even change some of the negative perceptions of Govanhill.

He added: “Govanhill can get a bit of a raw deal in the press sometimes.

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“It’s too easy to do a bad story about a place but this has been one of the best community projects I have ever seen.

“For someone who has been involved in doing a lot of them, this is the most important community project in Scotland of the last two decades.

“It’s important that it gets finished and gets finished well and I think we all feel that, strongly.”

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