Financial boost for large Portsmouth sporting club celebrating their 30th anniversary this year

A Portsmouth-based sporting club with hundreds of members has been handed a financial lifeline via Sport England’s Community Emergency Fund.

Friday, 26th June 2020, 9:08 am
Updated Friday, 26th June 2020, 9:08 am
Portsmouth School of Gymnastics' Jets team. Back: Aimee Puttock. Middle (from left): Libby Herbert, Chloe Thompson, Amie Cooper. Front: Sadie Inman, Grace Barrett, Kayleigh Steere, Elsie Wood, Hannah Pennells. The team are coached by Amy and Ethan Brown

The Portsmouth School of Gymnastics - who are this year celebrating their 30th anniversary - have been awarded £3,656 of National Lottery money from the £20m fund.

This cash will help go towards paying the annual rent of their base in Old Reservoir Road, Farlington - a 5,000 square metre warehouse they have been in since 1996.

Since lockdown was imposed on March 23, the club have had no income via membership fees - but obviously still have outgoings of which rent is by far the biggest.

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The Portsmouth School of Gymnastics Senior A national title winning team, April 2004. Back (from left): Amanda Smith, Vickie Dicken, Sasha Dennett, Lisa Cunningham, Vicki Bricknell. Middle: Leah Wilson, Leanne Smith, Sam Wilcox, Alex Rangecroft. Front: Jayde Bailey, Ana Wilson, Syd Smith. Picture: Jonathan Brady.

The Portsmouth School of Gymnastics (PSG) were set up by husband and wife Julian and Bev Such in November 1990. From the small acorn of six members at the beginning, the club has since grown to the mighty oak of around 500 at present.

Due to the size of their base, and the amount of hours they can train for under the terms of their lease, the club is virtually at peak membership.

‘We’re fully self-supporting,’ Julian Such told The News.

‘Our youngest members are just one, two, three years old - the baby gym - and the oldest member of our adult team is 30.

Portsmouth School of Gymnastics, December 2009. Back (from left): Yumi Stow, Fenella Mousley, Sheree Burnett, Lauren Kattenhorn, Jo Ward, Ana Davenport. Front: Ellie Arbuthnott, Hema Gaur-Sharma, Frances White, Ruth Smith, Jess Quinn. Picture: Ian Hargreaves

‘The oldest member of our club is 60.

‘We’ve never advertised for new members, it’s all been grown via by word of mouth. People hear about us and they come along.

‘We’re a well-known club, we support the community a lot.

‘We’ve worked hard on our young coach development programme.

Portsmouth School of Gymnastics, primaries, 2005. Back (from left): Rheanne Argyle, Anya Wallace-Cook, Kayleigh Sexton, Natalie Roper. Front: Victoria Bates, Rubina Williams, Billie Goodall, Anastasia Davenport, Abigail Whittaker.

‘That starts at 14 years old. We don’t look to bring coaches from outside into the club, we look to develop from within.

‘Our members mainly come from Portsmouth, but we have a big reach - we have members travelling from Poole, Littlehampton, Liss and Farnham.’

PSG cater for team gymnasts, rather than ones competing in individual events.

While artistic gymnasts compete on floor, bar, vault and beam, team gymnasts compete in trampet - a small trampoline - floor and tumbling categories.

Portsmouth School of Gymnastics senior squad, December 2012. Back (from left): Fenella Mousley, Yumi Stow, Lauren Ayling, Lauren Smith. Front: Georgie Scotney, Hema Gaur-Sharma, Rochelle Oxley, Lora Long. Picture: Steve Reid

A maximum of six gymnasts compete in trampet and tumbling, but up to 12 on the floor

‘There’s lots and lots of choreography,’ said Julian. ‘It’s very exciting to watch.

‘We decided to concentrate mainly on team gymnastics in 1997, and we’ve never looked back.

‘I like to think we’re the best team gymnast club in Britain.

‘We’ve had 27 British champions, and lots of other medals.’

PSG have regularly been crowned national champions at junior and senior level in the same year - scooping the double honour in 1999, 2000, 2002, 2004, 2005 and 2014.

Portsmouth School of Gymnastics' junior A team (12-15 years, 2004. Back (from left): Terri Hope, Ella Sullivan, Jaime Taylor, Lauren Ayling, Michelle Platts. Front: Maxine Smith, Natalie Hodgkins, Abby Lee, Kayleigh Travers. Pic: Jonathan Brady.

A handful of individuals have also been honoured at a high level.

Current coach Hema Gaur Sharma joined PSG aged just four - she is now 25.

Hema has medalled at all levels of TeamGym from primary to junior to senior.

She is the only UK athlete to ever achieve a place on the list of All Stars at a European Championships where personal high scores are added together from each equipment.

Hema is also one of just three PSG athletes to be awarded the title of Master Gymnast by the sport’s governing body British Gymnastics.

Current GB squad members Rochelle Oxley and Sarah Long are the others.

Both Julian and Bev Such are Master Coaches, and both have coached GB teams. In addition, Julian has reached the highest level of coaching in the sport - awarded his International Performance Coach badge.

In 2015, the governing body also awarded six Outstanding Contribution Awards to PSG gymnasts - Vicki Plumbsted, Jayde Bailey, Sasha Dennett, Lauren Smith - a current GB coach - Christine Jolliffe and Samantha Maggs.

The club boast a number of current GB internationals across the junior, senior and mixed squads.

Emma Walker and Eloise Beeson - both 15 - are in the junior women’s team.

Megan Knight, 18, and Isabelle Wilkinson, 17, are members of the senior women’s team.

And Long, 30, and Oxley, 27, are in the GB mixed team.

Due to the pandemic, they are missing out on the chance to compete in the European Championships in Denmark - home of the best team gymnasts in the world.

That event has been rescheduled to April 2021, but PSG have also missed out on a trip to Daytona, USA, where they had been invited to compete in the American National Championships.

At present, all the main European competitions are for national teams only, but there is hope a European Club Championship event could be created.

Of PSG’s large membership, over 100 regularly compete in events.

There are 40 who take part in regional, national and international TeamGym events, 39 who compete in TeamGym regional development competitions, and 41 in county and in-house RedGym events.

Boris Johnson’s lockdown-related speech on Tuesday didn’t provide much cheer for PSG.

They had been hoping to reopen on July 4, but indoor gym areas must remain closed for the time being.

That decision brought stinging criticism from British Gymnastics, who accused the government of ‘letting the sports community down’.

A statement read: ‘British Gymnastics is extremely disappointed that indoor sports have not been given the green light to return.

‘The government says that it places great value on the benefits of physical activity, but they are massively letting the sports community down.

‘Our 1500 member clubs and the 400,000 children involved in these facilities are desperate to resume gymnastics sessions with their friends and they are not being allowed to get back to sport.

‘If the government really believe in the benefit of sport and physical activity on mental and physical health, they need to move to reopen indoor facilities now.’

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Sport England were quick to offer financial support to the sport and physical activity sector following the outbreak of the pandemic.

At the end of March they announced a £195m package to help support clubs and organisations, including the £20m Community Emergency Fund of Lottery money.

Tim Hollingsworth, Sport England’s Chief Executive, said: ‘As the body responsible for the growth of sport and physical activity participation, we want the vital grassroots organisations that make sport and physical activity happen in this country to not just to come through this crisis but to be in a position to thrive again in the future.

‘The £20m Community Emergency fund, made possible by National Lottery players, is part of a multimillion-pound package of support we are providing to ease the pressure on a huge number of the organisations who are central to the nation’s health and wellbeing.

‘We are proud to be able to provide vital funding to Portsmouth School of Gymnastics to help it through these extremely challenging times.’