The history of the Sant Pau Social Gym is a strange combination of the fight for survival, the belief that the entire enterprise has an obligation to the place where it is located and a strong adherence to the philosophy of nothing to lose.
In June of 1940, at Number 46, Ronda de Sant Pau, the Barcelona Public Baths were inaugurated, built by Aigües de Barcelona, the Barcelona water company, which was then owned by the city council. It was a place where you could go for a shower, and it had the first chlorinate swimming pool in Barcelona. The neighbours could go there and take a shower for a peseta and for a peseta and a half, they could also gain access to the swimming pool. The idea was clear: to prevent people in the densely populated Barrio Chino, which had no running water in its housing, from becoming a source of infections and epidemics, like the typhus epidemic of 1914.
Over time, the residents of the Raval neighbourhood added bathrooms to their homes, and the “public baths” project began to lose its raison d’être. From 1942 to 1962, Sant Pau was the training centre of the Montjuïc Swimming Club, and a number of European championships were even held there. Later, it was managed by the Escola Pia and in 1992, a group of teachers from INEF (Spanish National Institute of Physical Education) started the Sant Pau Gym project.
Because of decapitalization and the lack of investment in the facilities, the adventure failed in 2012. In those difficult moments, the workers revived the company and we decided to add the word SOCIAL to the name, creating a project that we would be enthusiastic about from the outset.
So, we began to listen to the members of the gym but also to the neighbours, which is why we are the first gym to have changing rooms for nonbinary people, we extend opening hours during Ramadan, we have times when the pool is for women only, we hold women-only classes, our cafeteria becomes a meeting place for the elderly or for children and young people who cannot do their homework and study at home, etc.
And above all, we are a safe space of equality, where you may never know whether the woman you box with has a second residence and three cars or is living in the street.
we are beginning to fight on three fronts:
providing a good service
fixing our financial situation
With the support of many entities from the neighbourhood and the city, and from individual people, we hit the streets with the campaign “Habitem el Sant Pau” (Let’s inhabit the Sant Pau Gym) to fight against mobbing and speculation: the owners of the premises wanted to sell the plot where the Sant Pau Gym is located to build luxury apartments.
Like many activities in the city, in March of 2020, the gym also shut down with the arrival of the COVID-19 epidemic - but not completely. The Sant Pau Social Gym returned to its roots and placed itself at the service of the least fortunate people of the city by providing them with showers and a change of clothes, meals, facemasks, recharging of electronic devices, etc.
Between April 2020 and March 2023, we attended an average of 200 people per day through the shower/change-of-clothes service and we gave out an average of 185 meals each day.
And finally, in June of 2021, we received some good news: Barcelona City Council bought the land under Sant Pau in order to reform it completely and also build 46 social-housing apartments. The neighbourhood has recovered spaces and the uncertainty of the project has been reduced!
With the reactivation of the project, we want to once again carry out the task for which we were founded: social sports activity.
In May of 2023, we moved to Carrer Floristes de les Rambles, 10, a temporary premises that we will use to reactivate sports activities and begin the phase that will bring us to a return in 2027 to Ronda Sant Pau 46, with a fantastic social gym, of the quality that the residents of the Raval neighbourhood deserve.
Layout of part of the new provisional facilities