The Mayor of London announced today that he’ll be backing a campaign to restore the Old Bath House on Englefield Road to the tune of £35,000. Vietnamese, Chinese and Filipino groups have come together to revive the vacant building as a community centre for migrants and refugees. The campaign needs another £10,000 to get the project over the line, or they’ll lose the Mayor’s grant and other pledges. But if they succeed, they will use the money for a community kitchen that will form the heart of the centre, and a way of building bridges with Hackney locals through East Asian cooking classes and pop-up restaurants.
You can help by contributing to the crowdfunding campaign here, which closes on 12 August 2019: https://www.spacehive.com/the-old-bath-community-house
Community groups celebrating with the Mayor of Hackney on Lunar New Year
The building has served Hackney communities for almost 100 years, first opening in 1932 as a public bath house. Up until the 1960s, over 60,000 people were taking a bath there every year, paying around 40p in today’s money. In the 1980s, newly arrived Vietnamese refugees moved into the building, opening it as a community centre financed by its popular restaurant. Locals to Englefield Road still remember Mr Khane Thanh Vu, who led and co-ordinated the An Viet Foundation for over thirty years to ensure the employment training, community services, library services and the community restaurant ran smoothly.
Image of the bath house in 1947, by permission of Hackney Archives
When the An Viet Foundation dissolved in 2017, the Vietnamese community drew on the support of Hackney Chinese Community Services, and the Filipino consortium Kanlungan. If the current campaign is successful, the community kitchen will open in May next year.
Jabez Lam from Hackney Chinese Community Services said “This is a fantastic opportunity. Our new centre aims to have a community kitchen at the centre of its services, and this grant pledge will help realise our dreams. We will now be able to support our communities through elderly luncheon clubs, training locals in East Asian cuisine, or hiring out our new dining and kitchen area.”
Dr Ella Parry-Davies, a University of London researcher working with Filipina migrant women, says the centre will benefit some of London’s most invisible and isolated groups. “Many Filipinos in the UK are domestic and care workers, who work long hours behind closed doors. I meet women every day who tell me they’re looking for a home away from home, a place to unite and organise to act on their rights. It’s so important to have a physical space where the community can come together.”
The Bath House today
The campaign is bucking the trend of top-down “regeneration” in Hackney, and the erasure of the borough’s multicultural heritage The Bath Community House campaign is a turning point for East Asian migrant and refugee groups, but it’s also about continuity with the past. Hackney Council has approved a £400,000 budget to stabilise the structure of the building, and the restoration will see the building extending its life as a public space.
Susan Cueva of the Filipino consortium Kanlungan said, “This provides us with a wonderful opportunity to support East Asian women in catering business, as well as encourage innovation though pop up restaurants. We’re building a home here. It’s going to be a legacy to the community.”
Invitation to the laying of the foundation stone ceremony in 1931, by permission of