The team leading a project to restore Aberdeen’s beloved art deco leisure centre to its former glory has revealed its plans for the year ahead, including ambitious events to bring in more visitors.
The past year held some unexpected highs and lows for the board of Bon Accord Heritage and their namesake baths on Justice Mill Lane.
After gaining their licence to occupy the building last summer, much of 2021 involved continuing repairs to make the centre, which closed to the public in 2008, wind and watertight – a vital step before they can open up opportunities indoors.
Those efforts will continue through 2022, though much of the major work that is still to be done in Bon Accord Baths will be invisible to most visitors.
Steven Cooper, the group‘s secretary said: “Providing we can fundraise appropriately, we hope you’ll walk around the building without hearing any dripping water whatsoever by this time next year.
“It will be completely dried out, I hope, and all the drainage channels sorted.”
Hopes public can enjoy more regular visits this year
A build-up of vegetation in those roof drainage channels has been one of the biggest sources of water ingress, and also one of the most complicated to fix due to the need for specialist equipment.
However, there is now only one major leak causing issues in the main pool hall, and a large-scale cleaning effort has left the building both safer and more appealing to the eye.
That has meant more opportunities for opening up Bon Accord Baths – an open day in June attracted more than 1,200 people, while another one last month had a smaller turnout as it was held in the days after Storm Arwen.
But the big goal for the coming 12 months is to branch out from occasional open days and welcome people in on a more regular basis.
Mr Cooper said: “Certainly we’re already at the point of having quite a major art exhibition hopefully happening here next August, and a music video being filmed in March [with Aberdeen band The Little Kicks].
“We’ll hopefully add to that as the months come on and also as we do more work in the building so we can facilitate those sorts of events.”
The possibility of tea and coffee mornings has been discussed, as well as further activities like the fashion shoot that took place in the pool hall for the September edition of Trend magazine.
To help achieve those plans, they hope to grow the number of people in their Friends of Bon Accord Baths group, who will help to staff the larger events.
Missing out on masterplan
The project hit the headlines back in August, when it missed out on receiving a portion of the £150million pot set up by Aberdeen City Council to pay for the regeneration of the city centre and beach.
However, Mr Cooper and group chairman Bruce Strachan insisted they have a good relationship with the local authority – particularly its estates team – and had never explicitly requested a large sum of money from them.
Mr Cooper said: “If they said we can have £5 million towards the baths that would be amazing, it takes us five years forward, but we’ve never actually asked for that.
“We’ve had some really positive interactions with councillors, but there are also some key members of the administration who maybe haven’t felt willing to come and meet us, and talk about the project with us yet.
“We’re hoping we can convince them this is a worthwhile project for Aberdeen.”
Mr Strachan said Bon Accord Heritage is planning to take advantage of another major event coming up in 2022 to gauge the enthusiasm for the campaign among councillors.
He said: “We’ve got an opportunity, with the local elections coming up in May next year.
“We’re not going to badger them, but when we know who the candidates are, we’ll be approaching them and asking, ‘What are your thoughts? Do you support this on principle?’
“We’ll use that opportunity to see what they think.”