Harrogate Turkish Baths set to U-turn on move to mixed-sex sessions only

Harrogate's historic Turkish Baths looks set to U-turn on a move to mixed-sex sessions only following a big response from bathers.

Friday, 16th April 2021, 5:40 pm
Updated Friday, 16th April 2021, 5:51 pm
Photo: Inside Harrogate's historic Turkish Baths.

The 124-year-old spa and health club - which is run by Harrogate Borough Council - last year revealed proposals to switch to a timetable of mixed-sex sessions only and also introduce a nudity ban in a move it said would better reflect “equality and balance".

But bathers have now come out in strong opposition against the move with 92% of respondents to a newly-published survey saying they feel people would stop visiting the venue if it went ahead.

Baths manager Chris Mason said in a report that given the "overwhelming" response it is now proposing to introduce a revised timetable with an even number of male and female sessions instead of the current schedule or mixed only.

He added the proposed ban on nude bathing - which is currently allowed at single-sex sessions - should still go ahead.

He said: "The proposed timetable changes are more inclusive as they will provide two weekly single-sex sessions for males and females rather than the current timetable which provides three single-sex sessions for females and one single-sex session for males.

"Making the wearing of swimwear compulsory at all single-sex sessions will also promote inclusivity, allow the council to meet its equality obligations under the Equality Act and alleviate staffing issues during single-sex sessions."

The new proposals comes after the baths ended male-only sessions in 2011 because of "financial reasons" before they were reintroduced five years later.

It was then announced last year that the baths wanted to scrap both male-only and female-only sessions in what it said would be a "positive development allowing greater access to all our customers".

This view, however, was not shared by the vast majority of the 325 people who responded to the survey last summer.

Ninety per cent of those who took part said a fully mixed timetable would not meet the aim of equal access for all customers, with many agreeing that a "safe space" was needed for men and women separately.

The majority of respondents were female (68%) and heterosexual (51%), and all were aged over 30.

A separate report said while there has been an increase in mixed-sex sessions over the last year, there was "concern" around access for those of varying gender categories including transgender, gender dysphoria and transsexual.

"This is due to the potential access to single sex sessions by someone of technically the opposite sex, especially to those sessions where swimwear is optional," the report said.

Currently, swimwear is optional at single-sex sessions but will made compulsory under the new proposals set to be decided by the council's cabinet member for culture, tourism and sport at a meeting next Friday.

If approved by councillor Stanley Lumley, the new timetable will be reviewed after six months.

Separately, the baths carried out emergency repairs during coronavirus closures last year to prevent its damaged interior becoming "dangerous" for customers and staff.The council previously said it had commissioned almost £30,000 of repairs to stop it becoming "severely damaged".

The Grade II-listed building on Parliament Street first opened in 1897 and has been managed by the council since the late 1990s.

By Jacob Webster, Local Democracy Reporter