Poplar Baths Leisure Centre
After standing empty and forlorn for nearly 30 years, Poplar Baths Leisure Centre was officially opened to the public on August 13th by Executive Mayor of Tower Hamlets, John Biggs.
The building itself opened in 1934 and remained a much loved local landmark until its closure in 1986 after a section of the ceiling fell into the pool hall. The building fell into dereliction and faced a real threat of demolition, but with the support of the public and local community, the building was awarded Grade II listed status and entered onto the English Heritage ‘Heritage at Risk’ Register in 2001.
In June 2014, Tower Hamlets Council signed an agreement with Guildmore Ltd to transform Poplar Baths into a much needed community Leisure Centre for London’s East End.
The leisure centre features a reinforced concrete arched roof over the First Class pool which set Poplar Baths apart from other municipal baths of the time. . The original building included two pools. The larger of the two would be covered over in the winter and used as a dance hall, cinema, and as a venue for boxing competitions seating 1,400 people. The smaller pool remained open for swimming throughout the winter.
The £15 million leisure centre site has a total area of 2060m2 which houses a 25m swimming and learner pool, restored plunge pool, a Sports England standard sports hall, large studio and gym including a women’s only area. “The development of the leisure centre is part of a four project framework, in a public private partnership that included the construction of 100 new socially rented units for Tower Hamlet Homes, and a new community and youth centre containing a sports hall, gym and rooftop playing pitch run by Tower Hamlet Youth Services,” commented Patrick Quinlan, Project and Design Manager of Guildmore Ltd.
Main contractor, Guildmore Ltd, and architects Pringle Richard Sharratt Architects, worked closely with Tower Hamlets Council and Historic England, in order to restore the building and to protect the most important original features. Guildmore managed both the design process and securing planning permission that allowed the demolition of secondary elements to improve project viability and facilitate new leisure uses.
Historic spaces that have been retained and restored include the entrance hall, staircases and sports hall, requiring specialist repairs to historic finishes such as ceramic tiling and terrazzo finishes. Externally, the historic brickwork and dressed stone was repaired and over 170 replacement steel windows made to match the slender profiles of the original, which had corroded beyond repair.
As a Grade II listed building, the project faced numerous challenges from technical, architectural, operational and structural stand points. The site of the leisure centre is set within a residential area which meant there had to be simultaneous delivery on the same site of a 10-storey residential block containing 60 apartments.
“As it had been a swimming pool, it was a very humid environment and more corrosive to built fabric than other places. That meant over time the chlorine in the pool water, carried on vapour internally, had penetrated through to large chunks of the building corroding the steel which all had to be remediated,” commented Patrick. “Likewise, the external steel frame of the building was quite a modern material when it was built, but it was designed in such a way that made it inevitable that it would corrode, causing some of the external masonry to fall away from the building. This steelwork also had to be remediated using a system of ‘cathodic protection’.”
The leisure centre supports a varied programme of sports and activities and enhances the health and quality of life for local people of all ages. This includes activities for children and adults with disabilities such as: Badminton, Gymnastics, Trampolining and Netball.
The feedback from the local community has been very positive with residents excited about the new leisure centre. “The residents of Poplar have been looking at that building standing derelict and getting progressively more derelict for over 30 years,” said Patrick, “it was very fulfilling to bring this project to life for those that live in the area. It was a tremendously exciting project significant degree of complexity in conservation terms that in other circumstances might never have been saved.”