Bramley Baths and the power of communities to pull together – Nick Quin
One has undoubtedly been the number of businesses which have rallied around to support their local community or essential public services. Whether it be chefs like Matt Healy cooking food for the NHS, breweries like North Brew offering pints to the NHS or the Leeds Playhouse wardrobe team making PPE rather than costumes, there are examples across Yorkshire of how businesses have worked with their community to get everyone through this.
When life starts returning to something resembling normality, those interventions from business should not be treated as an exception, but built on. We should support them as customers, and the Government should support them to keep doing good.
But community-focused businesses cannot be summed up in economic impact alone. One example from right here in Yorkshire emerged from a previous crisis and shows the range of benefits businesses can bring when working with their community.
In 2010, as a result of Government cuts, Leeds City Council put its historic swimming pool at Bramley Baths at risk of closure. For an asset which has been at the heart of the community for more than 100 years, this would have been devastating. The community rallied together, took over the building and has put all its energy into serving the local area. Since then, run by a dedicated staff and a team of volunteers, it has taught thousands of people how to swim, worked with a diverse group of people, and protected the heritage of a Grade II listed Edwardian building.
The community brought together a creative series of activities – from floating concerts to underwater cinema screenings – and turned the Baths around enough to invest in the building for the future. To do so, it has relied on the community’s trust, and grant funding from various sources. The business employs more than 40 people, and is a key part of the local economy. But its broader benefits are harder to quantify. From tackling loneliness with swims for older people, or special sessions for charity partners, it is a true community asset.
During the lockdown, with the Baths shut, the focus has shifted to raising funds to keep going, as well as supporting the local community. The Baths is producing wellbeing packs for the local community and continuing to promote health and fitness as well.
But as we emerge from lockdown, its position will be precarious. That’s why the Baths is asking for support from its local community and anyone who cares about health and wellbeing in our region. For the price of one monthly swim, you could help play a part in its future.
It’s also why the Government needs to consider community businesses as part of its economic strategy. There have been encouraging noises from the Opposition front bench as well. The new Shadow Chancellor Anneliese Dodds MP has spoken about the social contract, and quid-pro-quos for any Government support for businesses going forward.
The Opposition should also ask what more we can do to support or work with those businesses who have reached out into their community to build something positive – and work with others as a matter of course, rather than by exception.
This could have a systemic impact. Contrast this Government’s failure to source PPE despite UK businesses being ready to supply it with what has happened in Switzerland. There, businesses which produce specific categories of nationally important items, such as PPE, employ someone to ensure that the country as a whole has the right supply if needed.
This is an example of co-operation between business and national interest, building resilience in times of crisis, and the stocks of PPE were ready for the nation when needed.
In those examples is a blueprint for how we can all take one of the few positives of this crisis and make sure it is long-lasting, by supporting businesses which give something back – be it as part of a corporate responsibility scheme, or part of their DNA.
It is on us all to support assets at the heart of our communities, and on the Government to make sure the community spirit evident today leads to a long-lasting positive impact for society in future.
Nick Quin is a board member for Bramley Baths in Leeds.
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