The Barking Bathhouse
A pop-up spa shows that the best creative projects are about community
Barking is in the distant east of London, 45 minutes by tube from the centre of London. It's not as wealthy as the rest of the city, it has a transient population, and at the last election it had to fight off a strong campaign from the far-right political party, the BNP.
The community rallied around and fought them off easily. While it might have had a tough few years, it has got some great public spaces, like the Barking Town Square by MUF Architects. And now it has a great new project - that looks like getting the community on board.
The Barking Bathhouse
They claim is is “a unique new space... that draws on innovative health, beauty and design practices to bring about a little bit of happiness and relaxation this summer.”
Essentially, it's a series of connected sheds, some of which have open roofs that allow the sun in.
One room is a wooden sauna, another a cool room chilled with dry ice. There are treatment rooms for inexpensive massages, and two open rooms. One has a pile of gravel which makes a passable beach to lie on while sipping a drink. The other has a canopy of trees and wooden sun loungers where you can lie back and view the sun through the leaves.
It's slightly ramshackle, but also incredibly charming. A gravel beach is a ludicrous idea in theory, but in practice actually extremely comfortable.
All about the community
But the true test of any facility like this is take up. And for a project funded by the local council, that means the community.
It helps that there's a hefty discount for locals, who pay a quarter of the cost for those from outside the area. There's also a small bar that sells nice beer and cocktails and which was well used and populated with events.
But what really brings it to life is the community. When I visited, there were groups of locals giggling in the inside/outside space. And a friendly local who spent an hour hopping between the sauna and the ice room. It wasn’t packed - but the people who were there paid more attention to each other than the spa treatments or the spaces.
For all the impressive design, it’s worth remembering that the best creative projects are about the community.
Image credits: All images the author