Save the Porchester Spa community
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We, the regular male and female users of the Porchester Spa, are not just a customer base, we are a London-wide, multi-generational, ethnically diverse community and as such we believe Westminster Council has a duty of care towards us and the traditions we represent. The Porchester Spa is the oldest spa in London and several members of our community have been going there for decades. In short, it has been a major feature of their lives.
The architectural plans for major refurbishment of the Porchester Spa include welcome and much-needed renovation but also misconceived changes of use that will be to the detriment of our community.
We oppose the move towards more mixed gender sessions. These are opposed as much by female users as by male users and there is no evidence of a large untapped pool of customers seeking mixed gender sessions. Mixed gender sessions discriminate against Muslim women, Orthodox Jewish women and Orthodox Jewish males, whose cultural traditions would not permit them to attend the Spa in such circumstances. These groups have long been a vital element in our community.
We note that SLM (Sport and Leisure Management) has only had experience of running one spa facility prior to winning the contract for the Porchester Spa. This facility, in St. Alban’s, enforces a three-hour rule for attendance, which goes against the tradition and spirit of the Porchester Spa, precisely because we are a community, not just a customer base. Our members come from all over London and include a large number of retired persons who choose to spend their entire day at the Porchester Spa, enjoying the health benefits of steam and dry heat for a couple of hours, then relaxing and sleeping on the beds upstairs for a couple of hours, then perhaps enjoying more steam before finally going out for supper locally, thereby benefiting the local economy.
We oppose the eradication of chill-out and relaxation areas directly adjacent to the steam rooms. Not only is there a Health and Safety consideration here – users may need to sit and cool down immediately following exposure to steam or dry heat – but these are vital areas of social interaction. Members of male schmeising teams and female users who engage in traditional cleaning methods such as scrubbing need to sit in proximity to the steam room so as to prepare the schmeising brush and to rotate schmeisers.
Schmeising is identified in the Heritage Statement provided accompanying the planning application as an important social and cultural tradition at the Porchester Spa and one that is now uniquely practised at only two spas in the UK, the Porchester and Canning Town. It is absurd that the proposals should be celebrating this tradition and denigrating it at one and the same time.
We do not wish to see the Porchester Spa turned into a bland metropolitan spa along the lines of York Hall and Bethnal Green. These are now ghost spas whose communities have been destroyed by careless management policies. Their intake of customers is pitifully low.
We oppose the plan to relocate the changing area to a gender-divided changing room downstairs. This is undesirable for a number of reasons. Both male and female users prefer their lockers to be close by the beds upstairs. Many elderly users will find it a challenge to undress and dress without the assistance of a bed, which has implications for Health and Safety. The upstairs area has room for a greater number of lockers with greater capacities. The proposed downstairs changing area would be too close to sources of heat and would not permit users to acclimatise properly before leaving the Spa, which again has Health and Safety implications. We oppose any reduction in the number of lockers.
We oppose any plan to reduce the number of beds available for relaxation in the upstairs area. Nor do we believe there is any need for expansion of the café facilities or for additional tables and chairs at one end of the upstairs relaxation area. We do not want table service, which would require both male and female users to be more modestly dressed than is customary. As the great majority of members visit the spa for health and well-being reasons, they do not consider the café an essential feature beyond provision of simple refreshments. In this respect the proposed addition of a restaurant seems an unfounded and misguided use of the spa space.
Similarly, we oppose any plans to reduce the number of chairs downstairs outside the steam rooms and sauna and also the number of shower stalls.
We believe that the slabs in the slab room (proposed new changing area) should be retained for their original purpose, which is for lying down after steam or for treatments.
We are appalled that architectural changes have been proposed and agreed which imply dramatic changes of use without the regular users being consulted in advance. SLM and the architects have never bothered to use the Spa themselves, nor have they thought to ask members of the Porchester Spa community about what changes would be beneficial. Members are distressed that permission for the redevelopment has been granted without consultation of those for whom the Spa exists, namely those who use it and pay to use it. We are deeply dismayed that our views about how the spa can be improved were not sought. In this regard SLM's attitude towards and treatment of Spa users has been disrespectful and dishonest.
While it is greatly enjoyed by members of all adult generations, the Porchester Spa is particularly valuable to elderly members of the community who obtain stimulation and invigoration through steam and dry heat and schmeising. Their best interests will not be met by the proposed changes in use.
SLM's RECORD TO DATE:-
SLM (as Everyone Active) assumed its functions six months ago. However, despite the minimal investment required, no improvements have been made, nor have new and ongoing problems been fixed. Some examples include the large and growing number of cockroaches; the continually broken or breaking wooden benches in the sauna, which both limit use of the Spa both and pose a health and safety hazard; and the cold shower to the left of the sauna, which has been out of service for one year.
Neither verbal nor written explanations of plans to resolve these problems have been provided to members. We continue to pay full fees for broken, dangerous and below-par services, despite the fact that our membership fees supposedly guarantee us regular use of the Spa in good working order. The cleanliness of the Spa is very poor as well. Often staff carry out cleaning duties in the presence of Spa users, a basic violation of hygiene principles.
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