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‘I’d be lost without it’: Locals fight to save Carlisle’s Turkish baths | Carlisle

One of the UK’s last public Turkish baths may close this month unless campaigners can change the council’s mind in time.

Carlisle’s Victorian baths opened in 1909 and were awarded Grade II listing in 2010 in recognition of their decorative tile and glazed stonework, as well as the stained glass ceiling over the plunge pool.

One of the UK’s most affordable Turkish baths, with entry costing £7.10, it has a dedicated community of regulars who fix the world in the sauna and three hot rooms several nights a week.

The rose window ceiling in the bathrooms. Photographer: Christopher Thomond/The Guardian

But Carlisle City Council decided to discontinue the complex after spending £27m on a new leisure center on the other side of town. It is scheduled to open in mid-October, when the staff of the operators, GLL/Better, transfer to the new site.

Time is short to save the toilets, and councilors will decide on Monday, October 3 whether to close the site or keep it, while campaigners work on a plan to take over and develop the toilets as a community asset.

locker room in bathrooms
Campaigners hope to save the Victorian and Turkish Baths from closure. Photographer: Christopher Thomond/The Guardian

They hope to transform the site into a “health and wellness center”, turning one of the pools into a hydrotherapy facility, opening treatment rooms and installing extras, such as an ice grotto alternative to the plunge pool.

The site costs around £15,000 a month to run, the council estimates, and heating bills are likely to rise in the coming months. Twelve bathers are allowed for each session, with attendees limited by the number of curtained changing rooms, each with a bed to relax in after the sweat or steam.

Regular customers are worried at the prospect of losing their sanctuary. “I’d be lost without him, to be honest,” said Donna Darlington, a beauty therapist who comes in at least once a week. “It’s very important for my mental health.”

Gil Roncarelli enjoys the Laconium. Photographer: Christopher Thomond/The Guardian

Gill Roncarelli, who started coming 23 years ago to soothe her aching limbs while working as head of dance at the University of Cumbria, says that after each visit, “you feel like you’ve been on holiday”.

Iain Young said he comes to the baths up to four times a week – “It’s addictive” – ​​both for the camaraderie and the health benefits. “We have one or two guys who have depression and they feel safe talking about it in the sauna. It’s amazing how a swimsuit can level the field,” Young said.

julie mines
Julie Minns, president of the Friends of Carlisle Victorian and Turkish Baths, says the baths help people with their mental health. Photographer: Christopher Thomond/The Guardian

One of the regulars is a recovering alcoholic who started coming over on weekends when all his friends went to the pub, said Julie Minns, president of Friends of Carlisle Victorian and Turkish Baths, which secured funding for a feasibility study for the proposal. of the group. She “he said he has done wonders for his mental health.”

His mother, Freda, 88, remembers coming to the baths in the 1960s when attendants gave massages and handed out tea and toast to bathers cooling off in the cubicles. “She would come in stressed after a shift at the factory and she would say she left feeling like a million dollars,” Minns said.

The first Turkish baths in Britain and Ireland opened in 1852 in County Cork, and over the course of the next century around 700 were built. Only 12 remain in operation, nine of which are public, and those in Carlisle they are the last in the North West of England.

Turkish baths are known for their healing waters. The original Carlisle Baths sign suggests that people should take regular baths for the “relief of rheumatism and allied ailments, general tonic effect, obesity, and relief of stress”.

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