Deal Gymnastics Club Established July 1986
The Deal Gymnastics Club was established in July 1986 with fifteen members and five committed parents who became the original committee. The gymnasts were transported once a week to use the permanently set up facilities of a Dover based club. The facility was hired for two hours per week and to keep costs to the gymnasts at a reasonable level the committee subsidised the cost. For several months this continued with numbers increasing weekly as the club’s existence became known. Soon the club began facing transport problems with so many youngsters wanting to participate.
It was at this stage that help was sort locally. Applications were made to local Junior Schools and Secondary Schools with large halls, enquiring into the possible hire. This avenue was unsuccessful. Fortunately, due to the lack of use of Linwood Youth Centre at that time, we were able to hire this venue twice a week. Equipment was the next priority. With equipment being extremely expensive it was decided to make as much as possible. Limited funds had now been raised and a committee willing to help. Mats were made together with a Vaulting Box.
At this stage we only had one qualified British Gymnastics coach, so further parents took it upon themselves to train as Club Coaches under BG regulations, paying all training and examination fees themselves. Thus, with the support of dedicated coaches, helpers and gymnasts, the club soon gained the respect of clubs in the area with our gymnasts gaining many gold, silver and bronze medals in inter-club level, competing against top London and Kent clubs. Popularity of the club soon started to exceed the current training times and space and the club began to outgrow its present venues.
In 1988 the club managed to negotiate with the management committee of Northbourne Village Hall to hire their hall. More equipment was needed so new Mats, Beams and Asymmetric Bars were purchased. This was possible through the persistent fund-raising efforts of the committee who arranged Christmas Fairs, Raffles, Displays and several highly successful Boot Fairs at Deal Castle Paddock, along with the usual sponsored ‘vault’ and ‘cartwheel’ events!
The new equipment was stored on the stage area of Northbourne Village Hall. Linwood Youth Centre was used for general floor and vault gymnastics. However, with the increase in equipment came the very real problem of ‘setting up’ and ‘de-rigging’ of equipment at the start and finish of each session, now five times weekly. To move 40 individual heavy mats, two Olympic sized beams, de-rig Asymmetric bars and put away the many safety mats, springboards, trampettes and other training aides became extremely time consuming and detrimental to the expensive equipment. At least an hour per session was needed and this in turn decreased training times.
Numbers were still increasing weekly and when Sandwich Sports Centre opened in 1991. It was felt that here was the ideal opportunity to gain more training space for the continuing increase in participation. The club moved from Northbourne Village Hall to Sandwich Sports Centre, keeping one night a week at Linwood Youth Centre in Deal for youngsters unable to afford to travel to Sandwich.
At this time, the club had 180 registered BG members and £15000 worth of equipment. Although the majority of registered members were from the Deal area, many youngsters travelled from Sandwich, Kingsdown, Dover, Ringwould, Ripple, Mongeham, Shephersdswell, Staple, Betteshanger, Woodnesborough, Nonnington, Worth, Elmstone, Wingham, Eastry, Tilmanstone, Eythorne, Ash, Ickham and Ramsgate. Costs were kept to the minimum with no coaches or staff being paid. The club now had three fully qualified BG coaches teaching from Recreational level to National level. Five qualified assistant coaches, a secretary, treasurer and a small group of parent helpers support them. Two of our coaches were also qualified as Club Judges with an elected representative on the Kent County Gymnastics Association Committee and Kent County Representative to the South East Region Committee.
Due to the ever-increasing popularity of the club it soon became a question of expansion or closure. The committee began in earnest to find a suitable solution and the only course was for a permanent purpose-built facility. For the volunteers this was a huge commitment, but their years of dedication made this the only option.
Approaches were made to hundreds of agencies for support, funding and expertise to raise the estimated £120,000 to build a purpose-built facility. After many ‘knock’ backs the Foundation for Sport & The Arts were our first break through and offered £50,000. This was followed by a grant of £20,000 from The Sports Council if the club could fund the balance. Dover District Council offered us the land on which to build and the club, through fund raising and loans, provided the balance. The cost of building was kept as low a £129,000 due to self-help from volunteers in completing the internal areas of the building. The club moved into the new facility in October 1994 and Paul Garber who was the Vice President of the British Gymnastics Association officially opened it.
The club is overseen by four trustees. Since moving in 1994 the clubs is still run mainly by volunteers, but in order to open during the day we now paid two self-employed qualified coaches. The club is open seven days a week with volunteers running sessions during the evenings from 4 pm to 8.30 pm, Saturdays from 9 am to 4.30 pm and Sundays 9am to 1 pm. (The two self-employed coaches work as volunteers during the evening and weekends). The club at this stage was running General Sessions and Competitive Gymnastics up to National level, together with specialised coaching for local schools.
Our governing body has been encouraging all clubs to expand the types of gymnastics they offer and during our first year two of our coaches qualified as Pre-school gymnastic coaches and we were able to set up the first pre-school sessions in this area. This took off very well and we held four sessions weekly for the under 5’s. To widen the use of the facility it was agreed to offer Parent & Toddler sessions. The gym was set up with mini gym equipment including specialised coloured soft gymnastics equipment which was funded by Dover District Council and Deal Town Council together with our own funds. This has been very successful and we now run three two-hourly sessions weekly with over 200 youngsters gaining the benefit as well as parents.
During 1998 we were able to start offering Boy’ Artistic Gymnastics. Funding for the boys’ equipment came from fund raising, a grant from the National Sports Council and the Kent County Council. A qualified volunteer club coach travelled from Sittingbourne four times a week to train them and was helped by a parent. As travel became to much for the coach our parent helper became qualified and took over the running of the group. A year later the Sports Acro section was also set up with one of our ‘retired’ gymnasts and a parent taking their Class 5 & 4 BG qualification in this discipline. Both sections are now highly successfully but need more space to accommodate more youngsters.
In 2001 plans were put forward to extend the club’s facility to enlarge the main gym participating area. Plans were drawn up for a new reception, cloakroom and upstairs area. The original estimate was £92,000. Fund raising started and the club initially raised over £21.000 from sponsored events and club reserves. Grants were secured from Deal Town Council, Walmer Parish Council, Deal & District Sports Fund and Dover District Council. Although the Lottery and the Foundation for Sports & The Arts were approached, no grants were secured. However, the Foundation for Sports & The Arts were very supportive and it was only due to lack of funds that they were unable to help at the final hurdle. The balance of £50,000 was eventually secured in the form of a 15-year loan from Dover District Council paying them back £68,000 in total. As the final cost was £15,000 over budget the club again had to raise the funds.
The club now has a larger participation area, better use of equipment and the beams accommodated in one area. This was achieved in 2003 when the new reception, cloakroom and upstairs area were created.