It’s with anticipation that I approach the Old Turkish Baths. After several years of neglect and disuse, the distinctive old building is undergoing the final stages of redevelopment, ready to reopen next month as The Unity Centre.
It first opened in June 1862, when Burwood Godlee realised his dream of a Lewes Turkish baths. Boasting ‘hot air and hot and cold water baths’, it proved a hit with Victorian Lewesians, with some 1,500 bathers visiting in the first three months. But attendance started to decline when a larger rival opened in Brighton in 1868, and it eventually closed in 1882.
Its most recent incarnation was as a print works, but the property has lain empty for some time, so it’s a pleasure to find it full of activity as I head inside to meet Sevanti, founder of Unity and the driving force behind the project. Her passion is obvious as she talks about her plans for a ‘centre for yoga, health, wellbeing and the arts’, and stresses the importance of community.
“I put my heart and soul into the tender,” she says. “It was a really rigorous process, with the Council wanting to know how inclusive we were and how we would be working with the disadvantaged. It was also important that we were offering a wide range of things. It’s not just about yoga, but everything we do is based on the values of yoga – of keeping people happy, healthy, connected and living in harmony. It’s all about wellbeing.”
Activities available at the Centre, she continues, will include art, music, theatre, dance, martial arts, and a range of alternative therapies, as well as different styles of yoga. “The Silver Birch Room is our small studio, which will be used for smaller groups, such as meditation circles, music therapy and one-to-ones. The Sycamore Room is our larger studio, which will be for bigger groups, as well as evening events.”
There will also be an infra-red sauna, a two-person flotation tank, a vegan/vegetarian café, and a small retail space selling local products, while the hallway will double as a gallery. In addition, there will be two treatment rooms (one inside and one in an external, purpose-built cabin).
In keeping with Unity’s ethos, everything is designed to be as inclusive and accessible as possible, with disabled access at the rear of the building, along with a spacious disabled bathroom, complete with adult changing table.
The decor throughout nods to the building’s past life, with beautiful Turkish lights and mirrors, sourced by Sevanti on one of her regular teaching trips to the country. She also plans to hold Turkish pop-up nights, with Turkish food and music.
“We want to be approachable and welcoming,” she says, “so that anyone can come in to eat, have a treatment or do a class, and just be themselves. It’s about creating community, and offering something for everyone.”
The Unity Centre opens on 6 September 2019, with free classes all weekend. being-in-unity.com