Preston gym stars rising to great heights thanks to super community club
From concrete city to one of the country's top flight gymnast centres. The City of Preston Gymnastics Club in recent years has been taken from a tiny club in Lancashire to the international stage, with direct links to some of the most elite clubs in the world.
It sounds a rather unbelievable tale that says head coach and director Charlotte Coles is because it is.
Last week the gymnasts their coaches, families, friends and sponsors celebrated the past year’s successes with a glamorous Hollywood themed ball at the city’s Guild Hall.
The evening was a reflection the year’s achievements which has seen gymnasts selected for county and national squads, taking on training in Chicago whilst also making the podiums in competitions in Malta and Costa Rica.
Charlotte says: “I think back now and it is just a crazy journey. There was a time we didn’t know if we would have the money to open the doors on the gym
“Now I think how many people can say their hobby became their career? I am just so proud and have so much love for what we do it’s amazing.”
More than 10 years after the community club was first founded, City of Preston Gymnastics today has 400 gymnasts in training at the state-of-the-art facility in Campbell Street.
Members travel from across the North West from Warrington to the Fylde. And starting next week a new wave of classes will be launched for another 200+ new starters, not to mention a host of opportunities for young dancers as well as fitness sessions for mums and dads.
This year alone a further £100,000 of investment has been ploughed into the gym. A further spring floor will be added this Autumn.
Charlotte, 31, who lives in Adlington, describes herself as a late starter to the sport at the age of 10. However, She progressed quickly through the ranks competing at the British Challenge Cup, before a broken knee at the age of 17 put an end to any title hopes.
Determined to pursue a career in the sports field, Charlotte originally from Greater Manchester, set her sights on a degree in sports science at Loughborough but another opportunity beckoned as an apprentice sports development officer in Stockport, which allowed her a day release to complete a degree at Bolton.
It was through her links on a locally based youth sports forum, Charlotte was invited to apply for a brand new position as a gymnastics development officer, for a new community based sports project launched by Preston City Council.
She says: “I had never in my life been to Preston, I didn’t even know it was a city, just a name place on road signs of the M61.
“It was a six months contract and more than 10 years later here I am.”
The council were keen to establish a new gymnastics set-up within schools and leisure centres - Charlotte’s brief was to develop a series of recreational and beginner classes to engage more youngsters in the sport whilst also offering a training programme for teachers and leisure centre staff too.
Such was the thirst for those sessions, she says it was clear there was the opportunity and ambition for a dedicated gymnastics facility and the amateur club was born.
“Teachers had been keen to introduce a bit more gymnastics into their PE and there was this recognition that the fundamentals of gymnastics could actually pathe a way into other sports.
“We’ve had gymnasts here who have become great sprinters and swimmers.
“I was asked on that very first day to write a five-year-plan. I had at that point never managed anything in my work let alone written a five year project. But I did it and even though it was a million miles away, the goal was to see a purpose-built facility at the end of it. When we opened the gym at Campbell Street in September 2011, I was within a week of that five-year plan.”
The club was first run from the old gym at Tulketh High School; a small committee made up of volunteer coaches and parents fundraising for basic equipment.
“The club was a side project but a natural progression from what we are trying to achieve with the council.
“We set-up in the old gym at Tulketh High School and literally used to take everything out and then put it all back away again. But it was the first time children had had access to regular gymnastics sessions and we soon realised we would eventually out grow the space.”
When the decision was taken to close Tulketh High School, the future of the club, which had grown to around 75, was uncertain.
“We looked at taking on the site ourselves but it was just too big and the gym would have still required an extension to fit our needs.
“We had a short spell when everything was moved back under the leisure centres but logistically it wasn’t great and we knew we would outgrow that pretty quickly.”
The small committee scouted a number of sites, one of the main priorities was a central facility close to bus stops and accessibility for all families in the Preston community.
“I had a vision of what it was going to be but on fixing a deal we had 20,000 feet of concrete shell, no running water, electricity, not even a toilet.
“We had a sprung floor and some bits of equipment and we had eight weeks grace on the rent to transform the space and £30,000 in the bank.”
Charlotte picked up keys in July 2011 and in DIY SOS style recruited an army of family, friends, parents, gymnasts and local tradesmen who set about the mammoth make-over.
“Some nights we opened up the shutters of the units and used the car lights to get more of the building work done. I had drawn up the plans myself, exactly how the gym would be set out and all costed out. But it was then pointed out my dimensions for the pit were completely off.
“The space to be dug out was almost twice the size and three times the price, it was absolutely nuts, my wedding was planned for Sunday August 24 and on the Friday there was a team of us scraping out the pit to get it done.
“I don’t know how we all did it but we opened September 2 and we have gone from strength to strength.”
In 2012 the club received a further boost when they landed a £50,000 grant from the Olympic Legacy Fund, which built their dance studio.
Fellow director and coach Zoe Gardner first joined the club as a volunteer coach, keen to get back into sport having also competed herself into her teenage years.
She continued her coaching committments through her teaching training and alongside her job as a High School PE teacher. The pair made a big decision in April this year to quit their full time jobs in April and invest in the club full time.
Charlotte adds: “For Zoe and I it is so important to keep those community roots – the whole concept was to build an inclusive club for the whole community and I think between us all that is what we have and everyone does a great job.
“Committing to the club full time means we can concentrate our skills on utilising all of what we have and branch out and develop
“Many of our young gymnasts from the early days have gone on to become junior coaches, others have gone on to take on dance, cheer
“What we’re trying to provide is new job opportunities and a first class facility for the gymnasts to hone their skills.”