Founded in 1967, Exeter Gymnastics Club has seen many gymnasts, coaches and other members pass through it’s doors.
Read all about the Club History by clicking on the links below and use the menu on the right to view our ‘Roll Call’ of Honourary Members and former gymnasts, coaches and committee members.
The Early Years
Exeter Gymnastics Club was formed in 1967 by Des Mills and his young family, they were soon joined by Frank Ley and his daughters. Initially, training took place at the YMCA (in St David’s Hill) until facilities became available at the University. The equipment consisted of four tatty green mats and a lot of enthusiasm. The Club now has tens of thousands of pounds of equipment, premises worth – well, who knows! – and, hopefully, the same enthusiasm.
By 1973, the club had grown to 80 gymnasts and was running sessions five nights a week but at four different venues, Episcopal School in Dinham Road, St. Thomas’s High School now West Exe, Friars Gate and the YMCA. I’m sure you can imagine the problems caused by the diversity of locations – equipment was never in the right place for the gymnasts who needed it – half the time was spent getting kit out and putting it away again and the club had no real identity as a whole because it was never all together in one place. It is a credit to the voluntary coaches, Steve Marchant, Alan Spring, Mike Euridge (to name but a few) and the committee during those years that they not only kept the club going but managed to raise money for equipment and to improve the standards of the gymnasts.
Growth and Development
The years from 1973 to 1979 were a time of expansion under the Chairmanship of Ray Albon (until 1977) and then Betty Punnett. During this period much of the equipment was purchased and the club further expanded its numbers. It is worth mentioning at this point that the club was always run on an entirely voluntary basis with all of the coaches and helpers giving up their time freely to help the gymnasts. All of the equipment was purchased from fund-raising income and the old minute books reveal a constant succession of sponsored walks, barbecues, discos, etc.
Exeter Gymnastics Club was using the Keyhole Centre two evenings each week when the Whipton Club, run by Mr Graham Watson and the May family (who now run the Hawkes club in Bristol), who were also using the Keyhole Centre on Saturdays, approached the committee with the proposal of combining. In 1975 the two clubs merged and with new enthusiasm a parents committee responsible for fundraising and social events was set up.
As the Club was still trying to operate in three different locations, the idea of premises where it could operate as a whole was muted. To this end a sub-committee was set up to look for any suitable premises. It was Betty Punnet who in 1977 came up trumps. Having realised that Devon County Council had purchased the Old St Nicholas School she approached the Council to ask if the Club could rent part of the school.
The move from the Keyhole Centre to St Nicholas’ School was not universally welcomed as the Club had to enter into a formal lease and pay rent, rates and heating bills that were far in excess of the previous levels of expenditure. However, the advantages of a permanent base for all the gymnasts, and the opportunity to leave equipment permanently set up outweighed the disadvantages and it was decided to move. By September 1977 volunteers had cleaned up the old school and the membership increased to 110. We then began to find out how cold the school was in winter!
In 1978 Mike’s commitments to the Royal Marines took him away from the club though he kept in close touch with us whenever possible.
The Crisis Years
1978 saw John Balding appear on the committee and at a meeting in November it was learned that the premises were to be sold and the club made homeless. When the St Nicholas School moved to new premises Devon County Council purchased the old buildings for eventual demolition as part of the Holloway Street road-widening plan. The Council had leased part of the building (the centre block) to the club while their plans were being approved. But, in 1978, they decided to abandon the road-widening scheme and sell the building.
Details took a long time to emerge but by mid 1979 it was clear that the Club could either go back to using several different premises or attempt to raise money and buy the old school. When it was learned that this would cost £60,000 the committee was understandably daunted.
Gloom and Despondency
During 1979, the club went through a crisis. With the coaches and committee gradually drifting away until there was a real danger of the club folding. By the beginning of 1980, it was clear that some drastic action was necessary and in March, John Balding called an emergency meeting of parents to decide what to do. Yvonne Budd, Diane Plumb and John explained the situation to a well attended meeting and the result was the formation of an Action Committee who accepted the task of securing accommodation for the club. A new main committee under John’s Chairmanship was formed and several parents agreed to help Yvonne and Diane (who had largely been responsible for keeping the club together during 1979) with the coaching.
The Action Committee started by looking for alternative premises and over the next few months looked at disused fire stations, half built old peoples homes, vacant plots on which to put prefabricated buildings and a variety of equally unlikely ideas. By the summer the Club had failed to find any alternatives and began to consider buying the old school despite having virtually no funds with which to do so.
Ours at Last
After long negotiations with Devon County Council the buildings finally became ours in August 1982. The school was ours at last!!!
A great many people helped during this period, a few of whom are still committee members, the great deal of effort and time spent by Laurence Smith on behalf of the Club talking to Banks, Solicitors and reading numerous legal documents must be acknowledged for without his expertise, and the enthusiasm of Dennis Clement who’s energy kept the committee together through some difficult times, the Club would not own its own premises today.
Running a Business
During the period from 1980 to 1982 many people came forward to help the club and a positive spirit of enthusiasm and commitment developed. As well as being hard work it was also a lot of fun – ask anyone who stayed awake for 24 hours and ran supporting laps at 5.40 in the morning!
However, in 1982 the committee realised that we would shortly have commitments to repay loans and to maintain an old building, and that this would be very difficult for an organisation, which relied mainly on fund raising activities for its income. In addition, the club only used the premises for two hours a night and it was empty during every weekday. Although membership had increased to nearly 150 there was clearly a great deal of potential for making gymnastics available to even more children.
The trouble with loans and mortgages is that they have to be repaid. The gym club was an entirely voluntary organisation and relied completely on a small number of people to give up their spare time to coach gymnastics, to manage the club and organise fund raising events. The majority of the club’s income arose from fund raising and The Club needed to raise over £3,000 every year to repay the loans and keep the building in order.
Once it became clear that the Club could buy the premises the committee began to worry about the financial commitments. Fortunately, in the spring of 1982 contact was again made with Mike Euridge. On leaving the services, Mike became a professional gymnastics coach at the Hawkes club (then in Seaton), also helping to manage the sports centre there. Mike’s ambition to run his own club coincided with the need to ensure a more secure future for the club and the committee started exploring methods of combining the club’s premises and equipment with Mikes nationally recognised skills and enthusiasm.
Preserve us from Solicitors
Again the expertise of Laurence Smith and his legal knowledge were invaluable to the Club. Things are never so simple as they seem. As a voluntary club, the premises and equipment had been purchased by the efforts of a large number of people and the committee have a responsibility to make sure that they are used for the purposes intended. Similarly, Mike was giving up a secure and lucrative job to run the club
and, as any parent, needed the security that could not be provided if a committee that changed every year employed him. The terms of the grants and loans prevented us from selling the premises to Mike so the Club had to look for a way of operating in partnership.
Enter the solicitors! To cut a long story short, the Club finally agreed to the following arrangements (and if they appear complicated – blame the legal profession):
Exeter Gymnastics Club remains a voluntary organisation and has appointed four Trustees to own the property on behalf of its members. The terms of the trust are quite definite about what can and can’t be done with the property. The Trustees have leased the premises to Mike on a restrictive lease that insists that the buildings can only be used for gymnastics or related activities. Mike uses the premises to run his own club called Exeter Olympic Gymnastics Club and all the children are members of that club. Hang on! That leaves the voluntary club without any members! Well, when a child joins Exeter Olympic gymnastics Club his or her parents automatically become members of Exeter Gymnastics Club, who elect the committee who appoint the Trustees who lease the premises that Jack built. Get it?
Financially, the rental received from Mike enables the club to repay the loans and mortgages and the term fees provide Mike with an income. Mike is responsible for maintaining the building but the club through fund raising finances major improvements as well as items of equipment.
A Brighter Future
In 1984 the Club was in a much more stable situation – the building was ours and the membership had risen to 350 gymnasts. The question was raised as to how to improve the training facilities for the gymnasts. A 40ft floor square still a dream to come true. However, walls could be knocked down, chimney breasts removed, and were, to improve the vault run up etc. One new facility, which it was decided the Club could afford, providing lots of voluntary parental help was forthcoming, was “A Pit”. And so in the summer of 1984 the two-week break was set aside to do just this.
A Dream Come True
At the beginning of 1986, the Club was granted Charitable Status, which was a very important milestone in the Club’s history. 1986 also brought with it definite plans from the dreams of the past few years. Detailed plans were drawn up for the building, which was to go up in the back playground and which would house a 40ft floor square. Is it really possible? Plans have been passed but £83,000 is a lot of money!!! By October finances were in place and on the 3rd November 1986 Duncan Andrews Construction Ltd moved on to the site and started to demolish everything in sight!!
April 1987 saw the completion and official opening of the new gym. This had involved a lot of hard work, both physically to keep the cost down and raising the funds needed for the project.
A Centre of Excellence
The new gym made Exeter Gymnastics Club a centre of excellence where our children could train. In turn the children rewarded the endeavours of parents and coaches alike by gaining Club, County, and National awards. It was unfortunate that this excellence was limited for so few to witness, and this was the challenge for the next committee – to build a viewing area.
In 1992, with the same enthusiasm as in the past, this was accomplished. The new gym building had been extended to incorporate a viewing area for spectators, as well improving the vault run up and the building of a second pit.
New Building, New Equipment, BUT!!!
1993 -1996, these years saw a great many different fund raising activities, allowing the Club to purchase new equipment, for the new gym, as well as to up grade existing equipment.
The Committee, also during these years became concerned with the inadequacy of many of the Club’s supporting facilities, changing, showering, catering, reception and waiting areas.
Pressure on facilities has also come from growing membership of young gymnasts and continuing use by disabled groups from local special schools.
The introduction of the National Lottery in 1993 with its five boards providing grants, in various sectors, was recognised as a new and significant source of funds. The Committee at that time acknowledged the important advantage of utilising the Club’s charitable status to apply to the Charities Board, which was able to provide 100% grants to successful applicants. This would enable the Club to extend the building to accommodate these facilities.
In 1995 and again in 1996 applications for funding, under the categories of health and youth respectively, were made to the Charities Board both of which were unsuccessful. During the assessment process members of the Charities Board who visited the Club expressed how impressed they were with both the proposals and the running of the Club but, that not withstanding the Club’s charitable status, the project was of a ‘sporting’ nature rather than ‘charitable’.
With the notification of the unsuccessful bid in 1996, the Committee accepted the need to reappraise the proposed extension and explore sources of partnership funding so that an application could be made to the Sports Lottery Board.
The committee with the same enthusiasm as those before them, spent two years of hard work in putting together all the documentation required for an application to the Sports Lottery board. In 1998 the bid was submitted in the hope of successfully completing a project, which would fulfil the aims of the Club over the last 30 years and provide accommodation for the missing or inadequate facilities, which are so essential.
This final part of the jigsaw would allow more youngsters to experience the rewarding world of gymnastics. It would also allow their parents and other adults to ‘join in’ the Club, and to improve their own fitness. All the facilities for a Regional Centre for competitors, training weekends, regional squads and proper lecture facilities to train the much needed coaches and judges for the future of the sport, would also be in place.
Over the next eighteen months the Lottery Board asked for further information on a regular basis and although time consuming the committee were able to provide all that was requested. But unfortunately towards the end of 1999 the final decision was made and the Club’s application was refused.
Urgent – New Roof Needed!
The committee now felt that the only way forward was to “go it alone”, as had our predecessors, and make a limited number of improvements through our own hard work and resources.
The areas of improvement were identified, a new roof and an area where parents can wait for their children without being a distraction to the actual coaching sessions, were essential and needed immediate consideration. If funds permitted the other areas of improvement the committee would like to consider were the changing facilities and an improved refreshment area.
In 2000 an appeal went out to all the families to support fund raising activities to raise the money for these improvements. It was acknowledged that the project would be too costly to be covered purely by funds raised, so an application that the Club be considered for a further loan was made to the Bank.
Enough funds were raised to pay for the flat roofed area to be renewed and this was completed by the end of 2000, enabling the strategically placed buckets to be removed and the premises to be watertight once more.
Now at the beginning of 2001 with 500+ gymnasts and a membership who continue to support the Club with enthusiasm, the Club is able to proceed with confidence in the plans to improve the premises. The Bank have agreed a loan in principle, the committee are waiting for the paperwork to be completed and look forward to work beginning on the main roof of the premises which is now in a very poor state indeed.
The bank loan obtained at the end of the year the committee felt the best way forward was to renew the main roof and to build a further room, which would provide the extra space for a refreshment area and the opportunity for parents to view the main gymnasium. This would free up current training areas currently used for waiting. At the end of 2002 the roof repairs are completed and the room is well under way. It is anticipated that the whole project will be completed by early 2003.
Also during 2002 the Club looked at different ways of promoting themselves and the fund-raising events, which as a voluntary club are so essential to the income every year. A web site has been set has been set up for the Charity www.exetergymclub.org.uk. It is intended that this site will provide the opportunity to support the sport of gymnastics as well as enable the Club to promote the Charity and its work, which allows so many children and young people the opportunity to take part in the sport.
The Club continues to thrive with numbers of gymnasts rising to 600+. The year 2003 will see the improvements to the premises in place and the committee’s new task will be to equip the room that has been built. Also the committee will hopefully be able to look at how the changing facilities for the gymnasts can be improved. The future years will always be busy as the Club continues to meet the aims of providing of it’s best for all members and visitors.
Do you have a story to tell us about your memories of Exeter Gym Club?
We’d love to hear from any former club members, parents or helpers about your time at the Club and any stories you’d like to share – contact us now!