A couple of weeks ago I had the opportunity to explore a disused leisure centre in my home city of Worcester. As somewhere I’d been a fair few times when it was open there was a hint of nostalgia, combined with the excitement and awe that came along with being able to freely explore this otherwise closed to the public place. What I didn’t quite anticipate was the silence.
There’s something eerie about abandoned buildings, especially buildings that would have once been so filled with life. This building was opened in 1970, and in the near 47 years it was in operation since, I can’t imagine there was a single moment that anything even close to silence occurred within its walls. Even in the dead of night there would no doubt have been rumblings from the heating and filtration systems in the basement. Of course in the daytime there would also have been screams of children playing and jumping from the diving boards, the whistle of the life guards reprimanding people for running, bombing or (god forbid) “petting”. There would have been the shouts from spectators bellowing at competitions from the gallery that overlooked the pool, and the just-about-discernible messages put out over the tannoy system. And then there was the gym with various classes and the monotonous drones of exercise machines, the hubbub in the reception area, the rattle of drinks and food dropping into the bottom of vending machines, hair dryers, lockers opening and closing, bubbling jacuzzis, tired and upset kids and frustrated parents. All familiar noises to anyone who’s ever visited a swimming pool leisure centre. But now all that has been entirely replaced by a profoundly apparent and completely dead silence.
The place was eerie, and it was definitely the silence that made it feel that way – especially at this stage of deterioration. Many of the signs of life were still intact. Keys were still in lockers ready to be used, the lifeguards seat still in position, bins waiting to be filled, time charts and posters still on walls. There was also a pile of floatation aids with one of them still inflated with breath exhaled by someone well over a year ago. It was just sat there in the corner by the teaching pool, presumably exactly where it was left the last day someone tried to teach their kid to take the first swimming strokes just meters away – they might have even used it.
Yet all these signs of life were surrounded by signs of deterioration and impending destruction. The water from the pools had been drained for a start, but as well as this, everything of any real value that wasn’t stuck down or too heavy to move has been removed. There’s now boards covering windows, railings surrounding the pools altering once familiar views across the pool of the murals, the clocks on the walls and entrance/exits to the changing rooms. The diving boards are gone too, rust has started taking over, there’s dust and dirt everywhere, and peppered around the building there’s holes in the walls and floor where the asbestos surveyors have investigated the extent to which that once-used carcinogen was knitted into the fabric of the construction (a lot, by all accounts). There was even the addition of a gas mask left by one of the surveyors, and believe it or not, a shit left in a toilet that no longer had the capacity to flush.
Yet the most apparent new feature of the building was the silence. It almost felt like the calm before the storm of the building being levelled, the re-building on the site, and the new noises that will inevitably emanate from the buildings that will replace it. It’s this quiet that I hope I’ve captured something of in my photos.
Behind the scenes
For all these photos, I actually organised the visit to take some more shots for my Unremarkable Architecture project. The images I took of the outside of the building can be found here.
Finally, I just wanted to say thanks to David, Nicky and Mark for enabling, helping to organise and giving the tour!
If you like this sort of thing, you can find more of my shots from a previous tour around a disused local BT office building here
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9 thoughts on “Sansome Walk – The Silent Leisure Centre”
Great pictures Hamish. There is something about abandoned places that is enticing, I think it’s the absence of life that was so obviously once there. It is in many ways sad that you can see (and maybe remember) how a place was full of life and has people’s memories and experiences tied to it; yet now it is broken signs and empty spaces.
These pictures show very well how little time has passed since hands were touching keys and leaping from pool sides. It is very similar to pools I remember spending a lot of time in.
Thanks Nigel – that’s very much what I wanted to show. The recent touch is what makes the place feel so quiet I think
Great series Hamish. We have an exact same situation here in Derby with our Moorways Leisure Centre. I regret not trying to organise a visit with my camera before it gets demolished, but our council has made this difficult due to Health and Safety issues. What is it with councils closing these lovely old facilities? Such a shame as I have fond memories of using Moorways. Our pool was huge as well, think it was 50m long.
I the case of this one, I think the maintenance was spiralling. Despite me really loving the external architecture, it was also considered a bit of an eye-sore too. I dunno, I guess there are a million reasons from political motivation to city planning needs etc. I suspect the subject is a lot bigger than we’d care to imagine – but yeah, it doesn’t make it any less a hard pill to swallow from a nostalgic point of view. As a good friend of mine – who happens to be involved in local politics – would say “onwards and upwards”.
An excellent series of images Hamish, the swimming trophy one being my favourite. It just has that extra emotional kick for me. These abandoned municipal buildings hold a secret sadness in the heart of our towns and cities. There is an old indoor swimming pool in Durham that I went into and took photos. The security was woeful. I just strolled in and snapped away for a good hour. Of course, being easy to enter, the local Visigoths had done a lot of damage inside.
There used to be a lot of places in worcester like that – not so much now. I remember being a teenager and finding a room in an abandoned factory where the floor was so covered in discarded needles it wasn’t safe to enter. It didn’t have the charm of this place…
These pictures really are strangely beautiful. Thank you for taking and sharing them – I’d nearly forgotten the mural on the teaching pool wall where 15+ years ago I was taught how to swim! Very nostalgic. Thank you so much, it’s actually quite sad to see it this way, but particularly eerie.
Thanks, pleased to have given you a bit of nostalgia 🙂
A great project Hamish! Like you said, ” The silence felt like the calm before the storm….”. Yet through images of the “Water Control” box at “The Pool” with the door half opened., The placement of the microphone at “The Gallery” with switches left at different positions and other well chosen images. I could feel the excitment of the activities here before the calm. I could also feel that everybody left the place right after the last event. The place was then left at that calm condition until the storm comes one day. I enjoy reading your project! Great vibrant colors that gave lives to the dull silent environment again!