Spas should be a relaxing business, but a group of regulars at London’s oldest bathing house – Porchester Spa, in Bayswater – are getting riled up at the prospect that their favourite spot could soon lose its distinctive character and diverse community.
Porchester, housed in an ornate Victorian building, has been serving punters since it opened in 1929 as the Turkish and Russian Vapour Baths. Fun fact: it also happens to be one of only two places in the UK where men can practise the Russian-Jewish tradition of ‘schmeissing’, which involves beating each other’s skin with raffia brushes. But the place is set to close for refurbishment in March, and its regulars are worried that Westminster Council’s proposed plans could destroy its current community and make it ‘just another bland metropolitan spa’.
A Change.org petition that currently stands at over 900 signatures expresses concern over several of the redevelopment proposals – which include reducing relaxation areas and imposing a time limit for visits. One of its main arguments, however, is that a plan to reduce the number of single-sex sessions will discriminate against those ‘whose cultural traditions would not permit them to attend the spa’.
The petition goes on to say 'we 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. Several members of our community have been [coming here] for decades. In short, it has been a major feature of their lives'.
Julie, a regular, says it’s vital that the spa’s character isn’t lost. ‘Women and men of all faiths, shapes and ages cherish the place as an oasis of relaxation and humanity. God knows we all need more places like this in the times we find ourselves in.’
If you want to get involved in the conversation about the future of the spa, there are public consultations happening at 11am on Friday Feb 17 or Monday Feb 20 at Bridgefield House Offices, next to the Porchester Centre Main Reception, Queensway, W2 5HS. You can also take Westminster Council's survey for spa users, or sign the petition here.
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