Campaign begins to save a rare 1932 swimming pool and a community resource
Development company Kinrise aren’t saying anything. One of their managing partners was the very model of terseness when asked for some comment over the company's proposed changes to Sunlight House on Quay Street.
He said: ‘I’m sorry, I can’t comment.’ Er...why not, you're the boss? Kinrise don't have a phone number to call either. Of course they don't, a classic 'Keep Out' corporate policy these days.
The response is disappointing.
London-based Kinrise seem to have their heart in the right place and their Canada House refurbishment, on Chepstow Street in the city, has been superb. Canada House dates from 1909 and shows how period properties can be turned around through thoughtful and sensitive refurbishment.
Bad form on the side of Kinrise who won’t speak to anybody because they clearly think they are above such petty matters
At Sunlight House Kinrise are using a heavier hand. This epic 1932, Art Deco building they own on Quay Street was built by maverick and all-round personality, Joe Sunlight (see feature box below). Proposals are now with planning in Manchester to spruce up the interior of Sunlight House, but something key to the original design will be lost and with it a health club containing over 3,500 members; 35 jobs might go as well.
The key heritage loss is a rare and remarkable thing, a swimming pool was built into an office block of 1932. Is there another in the North West, is there another in the country? Equally remarkable is the fact it’s still there and has been for 91 years presently within Bannatyne’s Health Club.
Members are not happy the club will have to close if planning is approved in October. They are not happy both with the closure and the sneaky way it was buried in a long planning application.
“Many of the members of Bannatynes Quay Street have been members there for 20 years or more, when it used to be Living Well,” says Helen Jones who attends pilates at the club. “We were very upset to learn the gym is likely to closed due to the owners wishing to reconfigure the ground and basement area to take out the pool and create workspaces. We've heard Bannatynes would like to stay. It seems the gym staff hadn't been told either’
“The pool is well used both by gym members, some of whom use the pool along with the sauna, steam and jacuzzi, after a gym session or a class as well as people who come for a spa day. The pool is fundamentally unchanged from when it was built in the 1930s and is a well- maintained heritage asset. It would be a travesty to see the pool go just to make way for yet more workspace.
“Many of us will be objecting to the planning application but we feel time is running out to save our facilities which have become, not only a place for us to exercise, take classes together but also to relax and socialise. This has been even more important to us post-covid and we hope that someone will see sense.”
To that effect a petition and protest is planned to take place from members who object to the closure which also puts 35 jobs at risk. They also say that stories about the club not being well used is simply untrue.
Another member, Phil Metcalfe, says: “There are over 3,500 members accessing the facilities for health and wellbeing both physically and mentally. Considering Manchester City Council is restricting traffic in an endeavour to promote cycling and walking, to lose a major resource like the gym doesn't make a great deal of sense. It simply wouldn't be possible to facilitate this number of members at any other city centre gym. This is used from 6.30am till 10pm on weekdays. So many local residents use it and of course, city centre workers too.”
Calum McGowan, Chair of Castlefield Forum agrees: “I’ve contacted the developers to say come on this is ridiculous, the city centre population is growing - so we need more sports and leisure facilities. Not fewer. And the council clearly will not be building a leisure centre in the city. It’s extremely shortsighted. The city is not short of office space and how long will the idea of co-working areas last. It’s just a fad and it feels so shortsighted.”
It’s understood from informal discussions that Bannatyne's want to renew the lease on their 45,500 sq ft of ground floor and basement space at Sunlight House. The health club lease expires at the end of the year which is presumably what gave Kinrise the idea of applying for permission to changes in the building.
A Bannatyne Group spokesperson has told Place North West: “We note the landlord has made a planning application relating to the existing building. We have a lease in place and expect it to continue.”
What’s interesting about the situation is the almost complete lack of a mention of the health club in the planning application and the complete lack of communication with the club and its members. That’s bad form on the side of Kinrise who won’t speak to anybody because they clearly think they are above such petty matters. ‘I’m sorry I can’t comment,’ isn’t really good enough.
Their proposal reads: ‘Internal and external alterations associated with use of part ground and basement floors for flexible restaurant, office and leisure uses, including removal of swimming pool, improved access to atrium space, provision of accessible cycle store, shopfront alterations and other associated changes.’
No mention of Bannatyne there and just that single mention of the removal of the swimming pool.
The heritage statement in the planning application is from Savills and downplays the swimming pool’s rarity which is fortunate for Kinrise. That's a little odd since this is a Grade II listed 1930s office building with a possibly unique feature. Health club aside couldn't the swimming pool and cubicles remain functional: that might provide the most unusual co-working space around?
What the development company will deliver will be no doubt be competent, neat, probably excellent in quality, but to remove the pool and the equally original changing cubicles, to remove a ‘well-used’, according to members, health club, without any desire to explain itself leaves a bad taste.
And that is the point: the high-handedness of Kinrise.
Yes, it’s their property but members of the public use the health club, so talk to them. The result of Kinrise's standoffishness will be protests outside the club and through a petition.
One of the elements in the fine refurbishment of Canada House, alluded to above, is a Bannatyne’s complete with a gym and a pool, although the latter is a fraction of the size of the one in Sunlight House.
Maybe just one health club is enough for Kinrise in Manchester.
The architects for the proposed refurbishment are called Anomaly. Club members protesting about the closure of Bannatyne’s might think this a perfect name.
That managing partner can't comment, but you can here through this planning application number: 137465/FO/2023 but be quick though. Get your thoughts in before the 22 August deadline.
Joe Sunlight (1889-1978): a very interesting man
This son of Russian Jewish émigrés was a maverick, the stuff of legends. He adored horse racing, champagne, women and the high life. On one occasion he is said to have lost £30,000 in one day gambling, only to win it back on the next. He even for a short time in the 1920s became an MP far away from his beloved Manchester in Shrewsbury. If he hadn't lost his seat at a subsequent election he would have had a private member's bill before the House of Commons on the standardisation of bricks. Strange, eccentric man. The name Sunlight, by the way, was the anglicised version of Shimshlavitch.
From small property speculations, Sunlight rose to be one of the country’s greatest property developers. He completed Sunlight House on Quay Street in 1932 and became his own principal tenant. One of his passions was Hollywood and he went to extraordinary lengths to court the stars, becoming friendly with Douglas Fairbanks Junior and Gertrude Lawrence who were appearing at the Opera House down the road and persuading them to open Herriots Bath Club in Sunlight House in 1934. The swimming pool still survives as part of a modern health club. Just.
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