Origins and Community
The Bath Haus Spa originally came to life as one of the Mayor’s Outer London Fund projects and “Gift of the Games” during the London 2012 Olympics. It was designed by the innovative firm Something & Son, and Rachelle Moulai was engaged to lead the venture because of her extensive experience managing high-end luxury spas in places such as the Seychelles and in five-star environments such as the Four Seasons hotels.
But Barking required something different, something more anchored in community. Fortunately, Rachelle was enthusiastic about bringing her skills and experience to a vibrant London Borough on the cusp of major change. Currently located in the Barking Learning Centre, The Bath Haus Spa serves a youthful, rapidly growing and ethnically diverse community.
The Bath Haus Spa provides everything one might find in a five-star spa: therapeutic massage, reflexology, reiki, beauty treatments, yoga, naturopathy, homeopathy, and sauna services to name a few, in an environment that clients experience as a welcoming, tranquil and nurturing meeting place. Its philosophy of inclusion touches every aspect of the business, and is especially apparent during its annual family friendly Happiness and Wellbeing Festival which caters for all, and is enthusiastically supported by residents.
Bath Houses as Community Gathering Place
Up until the 1970s Bath Houses were common across the UK serving as low cost communal spaces that addressed a common need, since many residential homes at the time didn’t have their own baths. But beyond their practical purposes, they have a rich cultural history. Among the earliest structured communal baths in places like Greece, Rome, Pakistan and Japan, bath houses were used to cure ailments, for ritual purification, for relaxation, and to gather together in a communal setting.
The aura of exclusivity around most modern day spas radically altered what was once a regular part of daily life for the masses, where healing was available to everyone. The Bath Haus Spa is passionate in its endeavour to maintain the original ‘community gathering’ model.
Intersection of Community & Spa
Right from the outset, The Bath Haus Spa took a participatory approach, involving a broad cross-section of community members in all stages of the project, including: idea formulation, construction, programming, and continued evaluation of services. Its focus on community sustainability and regeneration is evidenced through strategic collaborations with local arts, fashion and green businesses; and its holistic approach to programming goes well beyond the usual spa treatment.
Alongside therapeutic massage and manicures, clients can participate in beauty myth workshops, yoga, and meditation. This innovative blend of high-end spa treatment with old-world communal bath house sensibility makes The Bath Haus Spa in Barking truly unique. Its “unpretentious” philosophy and fresh look at holistic health and wellbeing keeps the spirit of the Bath House tradition alive within a modern healing context.
A New Model of Health
“We are facilitators in the process of a person’s health journey. We offer support and comfort to those we treat without judgment or prejudice.” ~ Farrah Idris
What makes The Bath Haus Spa different is also the thing that enables it to thrive in the community. Unlike the majority of spas promoting health and healing at extravagant prices, Managing Director Rachelle Moulai and Director/Complementary Therapist Virginie Auvray believe that mainstreaming holistic, “luxury” treatments is an important step in a model of care that can be available to all.
Many Bath Haus Spa clients are dealing with pain relief and other chronic issues. Others are looking for a way to practice self-care and self-love. These issues affect all of us, and as Rachelle explains, “by taking care of yourself, you lay the foundation for reaching your full potential.”
Within its walls, social barriers and isolation dissolve as people from all walks of life get what they need amidst beautiful, five-star quality surroundings and highly trained, professional staff that offer support and services without judgment. Outreach to seniors, people with disabilities, youth at risk, domestic violence survivors and individuals on mental health programmes demonstrate an ongoing commitment to reaching marginalized populations both now and in the future.
Similar to the original bath house models that once dotted London, The Bath Haus Spa in Barking is bringing back the communal aspect that made bath houses essential to the social fabric not so long ago, offering a cherished piece of history in a contemporary setting, and improved health outcomes independent of income or status.
Challenges & Lessons Learned
Financial and space limitations have created some challenges along the way. Complementary therapies also face considerable scrutiny and are often considered irrelevant or frivolous in comparison to traditional medical models of health services, but Rachelle and Virginie believe these two worlds can co-exist.
“There is science and there is spirit. My hope is that they come together through our work. An integrative approach to healing assumes that wellness is much more than physical health. It is the integration of body, mind and spirit; it is the realisation that thoughts, feelings and sense of self also affect our state of wellbeing. ” ~ Rachelle Moulai.
The integrative and inclusive approach to health and wellbeing practised at the Bath Haus Spa makes it stand out in a wealth of services, offered at a premium to a small sector of the population.
Rachelle and Virginie describe these challenges as transition points along a winding journey, allowing them to discover hidden gifts, new opportunities and key priorities in a business model that is creating its own unique footprint in the field of health and wellness.
Vision of a New Future
In due course, the business will move to a new home in a custom-built space that will provide room for growth. It will offer opportunities for new ventures such as an apothecary, the development of The Bath Haus Spa products and, in the longer term, possibilities for extending this unique model of healthcare to other areas.
But creating an innovative healing centre is not easy; Rachelle and Virginie are taking it one step at a time. They have their work cut out in slowly shifting the perception that the “high-end spa” model is available only to the privileged few. With time, patience, conscious decision-making, ongoing collaboration and professionalism, their vision continues to emerge – creating a space of belonging and honouring the roots on which they stand.