£5m boost helps to revive glories of Belfast’s last Victorian baths
Ireland's last surviving Victorian baths are a step closer to returning to their former glory - thanks to a £5m cash injection.
The grant from the Heritage Lottery Fund (HLF) will enable Belfast City Council to power ahead with plans for the restoration and extension of the iconic Templemore Baths in the east of the city.
In all, the project will eventually cost about £16.8m.
Not only will many of the baths' original features be restored, but there are also plans to build a 25-metre swimming pool and a gym.
Opened in 1893, the baths provided hot washing and sanitary facilities for people who lived in houses without proper baths.
Over the years, they have been frequented by shipyard workers - including those working on the Titanic - as well as dock and mill workers in east Belfast. Actor James Ellis and footballer George Best are also said to have swam there.
After most homes acquired bathrooms, the public facilities became redundant, but the baths were saved from closure in the 1980s by a voluntary group.
The building is now known as the Templemore Swim and Fitness Centre. A 25-yard pool is still in use and a gym, sauna and steam room have been added.
However, 50% of the complex is no longer used and parts of the building have fallen into disrepair.
Many of its original features, such as the twin entrances for first and second-class admissions, the "minor" pool and the slipper baths remain largely intact, although most have long since been closed off.
The grant of almost £5m was awarded through the HLF's Heritage Enterprise programme.
John Hussey from Belfast City Council's strategic policy and resources committee said: "This investment has the twin benefits of restoring this iconic building to its former glory and allowing us to deliver our ambitious programme of improvements to leisure provision in Belfast."
Head of HLF Northern Ireland, Paul Mullan, said: "Finding a sustainable use for Templemore Baths has been a goal for the local authority, Templemore Users Trust and people of east Belfast for many years.
"Now with ambitious proposals from Belfast City Council and money raised by National Lottery players, the baths are going to be transformed into a fitting leisure venue for people to use and enjoy."