It was an unusual sight at the end of an unusual summer: hundreds of people queuing along an Aberdeen street to get access to a long-closed leisure centre.
But the Bon Accord Baths open day in September was the highlight of a momentous year for the campaign group hoping to save one of Aberdeen’s best-loved architectural treasures.
Among the 1,700 people who turned out for the Covid-safe event were a former champion diver in her 80s, and the first child who came through the baths’ doors when they opened in 1940.
Getting the public back into the building for its 80th anniversary was one of the main aims of Bon Accord Heritage – but not only did they have to overcome Covid-hurdles, but repeated vandal attacks.
Group secretary Steven Cooper said: “We planned on doing work throughout 2020, but we basically just had to cram it all into a seven-week period when the Covid situation allowed.
“The licence to occupy the building that the council agreed was a game-changer.
“Having access meant we could watch the building, we could respond to things, we could work on improving it to get the public back in, which is what we did in quite a short period.”
But even as the group worked on the restoration of the baths and the country tried to stay in their homes as much as possible, vandals repeatedly struck.
Through lockdown and even as recently as the past weekend, windows were broken and offensive graffiti was scrawled over walls.
A break-in on the evening of December 20 resulted in hand sanitiser stations being ripped from walls and damage to a space set to be used for public events.
At the weekend, the volunteers raised concern that intruders had scaled anti-climb paint at night to take pictures from the highest diving board – nearly 50ft above the pool floor – in pitch darkness.
Mr Cooper said: “That was an issue that was getting a bit out of control before.
“Police Scotland are now involved with the project, we have a liaison with the police who have come and done a full survey of the building and recommended a number of security modifications which we’re doing.
“The police are patrolling outside the building more regularly, and hopefully people can be caught and appropriate measures can be taken.”
Despite the difficult circumstances, the group has succeeded in building impressive momentum for the project.
Around £15,000 was raised online on the open day, and 120 people have completed a volunteer form to say they will help to clean the place up as soon as they are allowed in.
That will allow them to move forward with ambitious plans, transforming the front block of the building as they work to raise enough money to bring the leisure centre back to life.
‘The enthusiasm was amazing’
“The project for going forward into 2021 is to try and figure out what the community wants to see in this front block,” said Mr Cooper.
“We’re thinking the Spartan Club could be a big, multi-purpose space for events, activities, classes.
“In our capital feasibility study, the concept of having a weekend food market was also something that people have said would be desirable.”
There are still plenty of challenges ahead – not least the lack of electricity and water – but Bon Accord Heritage is optimistic about the current fundraising campaign to secure the building from the elements.
Mr Cooper said: “The message to the community is, the more they come to our pop-up events, and the more they donate to the campaign to make the baths wind and watertight, that’s noticed by funders, and provides evidence for us to show the community has really bought into this project.
“The enthusiasm we saw at our open day was amazing, and that’s helped drive us forward.”
To support or donate to the project, visit bonaccordbaths.org.uk/donate