22/05/2024
Norwich, GB 16 C
Researching and reporting on the lives of some really interesting people (RIP)

GILL WRIGHT, aged 62

RESTORATION

Born in Liverpool, she was the third daughter of Cleo Milward and John Wright who lived in Toxteth. Gill had two younger brothers as well (Martin and Stephen)

John was an industrial chemist who worked at the Dunlop tyre factory, and Cleo was a foster carer who re-trained as a Special Educational Needs teacher after the 5 children had left home.

Her mother was politically active. She was a member of CND and meetings took place in the family’s front room. She took the whole family on anti-war marches and took her three daughters, Sue, Veronica (‘Vee’) and Gill to Greenham Common.

Their father, John, was very active in the Labour Party.

The family had a canal boat, where they took all of their holidays. Therefore, it was deemed essential that all the children learned to swim. Swimming became a regular family activity.

Gill and Vee spent their teenage school summer holidays helping to restore derelict canals as part of the Waterway Recovery Group.

On her own, Gill campaigned for abandoned buildings around the Ellesmere Port canal basin, to be brought back into use. They would eventually be reborn as the Ellesmere Port Boat Museum.

Gill then went to Leicester University to study chemistry.

After graduating, she got a job with Shell in the Wirral, the very place her father had started his career.
But she was unhappy working in the oil and gas industry, feeling she was better suited to social welfare, so she resigned and became a welfare rights advisor at Warrington Law Centre, prior to moving to a similar position in South Manchester.

She had a brief fling with an ex-boyfriend, Martin Lowe – and became pregnant. Her daughter Sarah was born and she chose to bring her up as a single mother. Martin remained very close in their lives although they never got together.

By now she lived in Rusholme. The famous Manchester Victoria Baths were very close, but Gill never swam there because somebody had told her they were cockroach infested.

By the time she realised they weren’t, it was too late. The baths shut in 1993.

But Gill was appalled the Victoria Baths had shut. She went to a meeting about them at Manchester City Council. A councillor proudly introduced himself as the man who had signed the closure order to shut the baths. He stated they would never be re-opened. “We’ll see”, retorted Gill – and thus began a 25-year project to save and restore the baths.

She was very organised, an early expert in spread sheets and computer technology and excelled in raising grants and getting publicity.

Sunny Lowry
Sunny Lowry (courtesy of Manchester Evening News)

She was nearly, but not quite alone in the project. Her friend Sunny Lowry helped her. She was a former long-distance swimmer who had swum the channel in 1933 aged 22. Sunny had learned to swim at the Victoria Baths.

In 1993, Gill managed to get the baths onto the ‘Restoration’ television series. Viewers loved the Victorian ceramic tiles, mosaic floors and stained glass. Lots of this glass Gill had stored under her bed for safety.

She was unsurprised when the baths won the award as the nation’s favourite heritage project. However, the prize money of £3.5million was not enough. It only covered the restoration of the building’s exterior.

So it was back to fund raising. With the higher profile, she raised another £1.6 million – but had many grant applications rejected. She never gave up hope. Her big break through came when she negotiated a National Lottery Heritage Fund grant.

Gill Wright
Gill Wright (courtesy Historic Pools of Britain)

She also created the ‘Historic Pools of Britain’ campaign and was inundated by people asking for her help and advice. She travelled around the country – always taking her swimming costume with her. She fought council after council that tried to shut pools as cost cutting exercises.

And every meeting of the Historic Pools ended with a dip.

She was also recognised as the expert on Great Britain’s swimming heritage – and began an archive of the Victoria Bath’s history.

She was a coach for the ‘Northern Wave’ club, and coached an LGBTQ club, as well as teaching thousands of children to swim. “Every child a swimmer, every swimmer a life saver”, she used to say.

Gill was finally able to open the Turkish Baths part of the Victoria, including the ‘Aerotone’, a violent Victorian jacuzzi.

She also paid for the building’s upkeep by renting it out for functions such as weddings, music videos (excellent acoustics) and it appears in TV shows such as ‘Peaky Blinders’ ‘Cold Feet’ and ‘It’s a Sin’.

Gill Wright and Rebecca Adlington
Gill Wright and Rebecca Adlington (courtesy of The Guardian)

Rebecca Adlington became the face of the campaign to fully restore the baths.

Gill gave guided tours and always encouraged artists and historians to visit. She founded the ‘Friends of the Baths’ society.

But she never saw her dream of swimming returning to the Victoria baths, apart from one day in May 2017 as a fund raiser. On that day swimmers were allowed to use the original cubicles and the Tea Room sold old-fashioned drinks such as Bovril and Vimto.

In 2021, Gill had a seizure and was diagnosed with a brain tumour. She spent the pandemic in hospital before she went to her daughter Sarah’s home, to live her last few months. Sarah is a paramedic.

Sarah said her mother was so committed to the cause that she felt she always had a sister – called Victoria Baths.

Gill’s mother survives her.

Splash back in time
Splash back in time (courtesy of Swimming Pool Scene)

A Gill Wright Memorial Fund has been created with all proceeds going to the baths.

RIP – Restoration in Practice

Previous Article

CLAUDE JAMES, aged 90

Next Article

MICHAEL BOURDEAUX, aged 87

You might be interested in …

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *