Thursday marked the official first day of the Community Business Weekend. Right through until Sunday, you can get to know what community businesses near you are doing to support and reinvest invest back locally.

This weekend is a chance to get involved and meet the people behind the businesses, to celebrate the good behind the ventures and even possibly join as a volunteer.

One of over 200 businesses taking part this weekend, is Bramley Baths, an Edwardian bath house in Leeds that became a social enterprise and ran by the community in 2013.  So how did the Bramley Baths become to be a not-for-profit and community-led business? Back in 2011, Leeds City Council (LCC) was facing budgetary pressures, which would have led to the closure of the baths. After an open invite to express the interest to take over the management of Bramley Baths, a group of residents came together with a plan.

It just goes to show the power of the people. Impressed by the story of the Bramley Baths, I spoke to John Baron, marketing manager at the bath house, to find out more about its importance, community impact and future plans.

Bramley Baths has a rich history and is a beautiful iconic building, outside of this, what importance does Bramley Baths play now in the community?

Bramley Baths is truly at the heart of the local community. We’re going from strength to strength, and we’re really delighted that more people are joining in and finding out how good it is to feel fitter. We provide swimming lessons to children at 18 schools and access to affordable exercise for all members of the community. We work closely with community groups such as the Better Broadleas and Bramley Elderly Action where we run special programmes for them.

We have a diverse programme which ranges from transgender/ non-binary sessions through to the classes for children with Down Syndrome, and our own synchro-swimming group the Bramley Mermaids.

We also act as a social hub where people come to make and meet friends. We even hold baptisms here. Our aim is to become known as the friendliest Baths in Britain, part of the family, in fact!

How many people visit/ use Bramley Baths?

We have around 1,000 children a week doing swimming lessons each week – and we have a waiting list!  That doesn’t include the many hundreds who come for our regular swimming sessions, studio classes, to use our steam room and our popular gym.

How many volunteers do you have and how do they help?

We’re in a lucky position where all our employees are paid, however our board are all volunteers and really passionate about developing the Baths to its full potential. We do have a small but dedicated team of volunteers who help maintain and run our community garden, and just recently another volunteer kindly helped paint our external window frames. It’s little touches like that which are so important in supporting our development.

Could you summarise what importance volunteers and local support plays in community businesses?

Without local support we wouldn’t be here. When we were threatened with closure, it was pressure from the local community – regulars, schools and people who love the Baths – which kept us open. An incredibly passionate group of people felt so strongly that, with the support of the community, they mounted a community takeover. They provided an incredibly strong business plan combined with bucket loads of passion and determination and we haven’t looked back since.

What pressures do community businesses (and Bramley Baths) face?

We have several pressures, balancing commercial against the community interest being the main one. For example, we would like to introduce more disability swimming and niche activities but because we need to sustain our sales we sometimes need to go with the more popular and financially lucrative activities such as swimming lessons. Our pool is at capacity in terms of activities (and we’re open all day seven days a week) which also challenges our growth, so we’re looking to expand the number of classes we’re running and encourage more people to use our gym and steam room.

Bramley Baths will be taking part in the Community Business Weekend, what can people expect from this?

We’re running our own Community Business Weekend event on Sunday, May 19 between 12pm-2pm. Come and join our CEO Sue Stones between for a chat over coffee, tea and cake. This is an opportunity to speak to Sue about absolutely anything connected to the Baths – as well as our future plans. We’ll also be running a quick tour around our Grade II Listed building, which will be an opportunity to learn a little about our rich history. The tours are free, but we ask that you book in advance via reception on 0113 256 0949.

Supporting Community Business Weekend means you’re helping businesses which are out to make a difference socially in your community – this is a chance get to know them and how you can support them in future.

What’s in store for the future for Bramley Baths?

In January we had a £500,000 investment to create an eco-hub here at Bramley Baths, which replaces the old boilers, filters, pipework and air conditioning systems. This essentially safeguards our future and provides us with good foundations to move the business forward. We’re aiming to consolidate in the first half of this year, then move towards the next stage of investment next year to further improve and preserve our beautiful Grade II Listed building.

Are there any words of advice or tips to communities that would be interested to take on a community business?

Just go for it! Try find a niche and a people with the relevant expertise and time and – crucially – passion and go for it 100%. We recently had a little girl who said one of our dance classes was the highlight of her week and ‘the time that she lived for’. It’s always lovely to hear stories of how we’re making a difference to people’s lives.

For me personally, I find it truly inspiring what people can do, or more so what the passion and drive of a community can achieve. Bramley Baths is just one beautiful story of many. This weekend is the perfect chance to see what community businesses are near you, for a chance to get to know them, and to get involved.

See what’s nearby by heading over to www.communitybusinessweekend.org/find-an-event and following the social media hashtags #Cbwkd19 #communitybusinessmatters.

Have a great weekend all.
Charlotte