29. Indulgent And Virtuous: A London Spa Day

Like millions of people in this city I work at a computer all day, hump heavy bags all over London and successfully store all angst and worry in my shoulders and back.  And, like most, I need a way to decompress from time to time, a way to get rid of all that frustration and tension. No, I’m not talking about THAT! Honestly!

I'm talking about spas. Now if you, like me, are a lefty liberal type I know you are probably thinking “oh, a spa, how bourgeois!” Well, in most cases you’d be right. Yet spas have been a guilty pleasure of mine for years.  I went to a naked spa in South Korea, where you could stand (naked) looking out from the floor to ceiling tinted windows at the ocean and the people below (oddly pleasing). I’ve been to the best known spa in London, the Sanctuary, which is massive and opulent, but given the number of other women in the place you can’t help but feel a bit like extremely well-tended veal calves.  You can practically hear the KER-CHING every time you step out of a treatment room, and whilst floating on the vibrating beds listening to a woman take you on a journey through your lady garden you end up idly wondering which part of your anatomy you can sell for the most cash. And I’ve been to the other end of the scale. The ones for which the description ‘spa’ can only properly be used in the sentence ‘sparsely decorated, extremely hot basement flat.’

And then there’s that nagging voice in your head.  The one that tells you you’re being fleeced. The one that finds something unsettling by being around so many rich people.

Thank heavens then, for Spa London at York Hall. It’s a joint venture between GLL (Greenwich Leisure Limited) and Tower Hamlets Council.  GLL is an employee-owned society that exists for the benefits of the community.  Based on charitable objectives, GLL is non-profit distributing and acknowledged as London’s most successful social enterprise.

Spa London defies preconceptions about Local Authority owned leisure facilities.  It easily competes with other spas, boasting two steam rooms, a sauna, a Roman Caldaruim, plunge pool, ice fountain and relaxation area (with free fruit tea!). It also has treatment rooms offering reasonably priced massages (my fave), facials, manicures, pedicures and all sorts of other delights.  The staff members are friendly and professional but don’t expect to be fawned over, it’s not that kind of place. Remember, everyone you meet is one of the owners!

Best of all, for members it costs about £20 to hang out for up to four hours if you’re not a Tower Hamlets resident. It’s cheaper if you live in the borough and there are concessionary rates if you are on a low wage.  You’ll find yourself cheerfully handing over the money knowing that it’s not going to L’Oreal or Duncan bloody Bannatyne some other monolithic beauty empire, but rather the people of Tower Hamlets.  
If you feel the need for refreshment upon walking down the steps all glowy and relaxed, there’s the gorgeous veggie and vegan Gallery Café, where you can continue your detox with scrummy juices  or alternatively retox with their excellent coffee and cake, or organic ales and wines. This is also a social enterprise, with café profits going into the work of St Margaret’s House Charity, which provides space for charity and community projects. They are also big on sustainability, using mainly biodegradable packaging and fair trade products.  You could also nip on over to the Museum of Childhood just over the road and grab something unique for your own tiger cubs or someone else’s.  I should warn you that the arm and leg you saved in the spa might get lost to the museum toy shop, accompanied by the words “But it’s so cute!”

So there it is, your corporation free virtuous spa day in Bethnal Green.

Author: Lucinda Hardwick


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