History of the Gym
The Club was founded by Head Coach, Terry Sharpington, in 1976, operating in a local school with 20 gymnasts and the minimum of apparatus (2 mats, a vaulting horse and a home-made spring board!) A few interested parents volunteered to help and eventually trained to become qualified coaches.
Over the years, the Club became more and more successful and fund-raised continually to buy equipment and boost funds. Eventually, in 1982, with some financial help from Huntingdon Town Council and the (then) Sports Council, a purpose-built, permanent facility was built on Council land, with the Club coaches and a band of willing parents carrying out all the interior decorating and fitting etc. Huntingdon Town Council became the owners of the building with the Club taking a thirty year lease.
With new premises, the Club was able to increase its membership enormously, offering classes to children of all ages and abilities. The competitive squads progressed from County level to Regional, National and, eventually, International standard. From the start, the Club was totally self-financing, paying all its considerable overheads from membership fees and fund-raising efforts.
Until the late 1980’s, the Club operated totally on a voluntary basis but at this point it became evident that it had, once more, “outgrown” itself. The general classes were full, there was a long waiting list and there existed a group of talented gymnasts working at the very highest level of the sport and who required more training time and attention in order to achieve the results of which they were capable and which they deserved.
The problem was solved in two ways – a) Huntingdon Town Council recognised the important role played by the Club and funded an extension to the building in order that more children could be accommodated and b) Terry Sharpington gave up his daytime job to work full time at the gym. He was able to start daytime toddler sessions and increase the number of general classes as well as provide the much-needed extra coaching for the elite girl gymnasts. From the extra classes the Club was able to pay him a retainer to administer the Club completely – from overseeing all coaching programmes and classes to maintaining the building and equipment and cleaning the toilets! All other coaching continued on a voluntary basis.
1994 saw another milestone in the Club’s history. The boys section was expanding and improving steadily and was in need of the type of training being offered to the elite girls and both boys and girls were training at a level that required the expertise of a world class choreographer for them to compete on an equal footing with other National and International gymnasts. On this occasion Huntingdon District Council gave support in the form of a grant to provide the wages of a full time boys’ coach and choreographer. After 2 years the boys’ coach grant was reduced with the Foundation for Sport and Art making-up the difference for 3 years. With this support, the elite boys section scaled new heights and a tremendously successful Special Needs section was established.
At the beginning of the new Millennium the Club enjoyed considerable success, providing an invaluable facility for the locality from recreational and Special Needs level up to full International standard. The Head Coach’s retainer and wages for a young recreational coach were still provided from Club funds, the boys/Special Needs coach and choreographer’s wages were being paid by the final year of current grant-aid with all other coaching and administration still being provided on a voluntary basis. The Club was also recognised by the local Huntingdon Freemen’s Charity in the form of grant-aid to completely refurbish the gymnasium with new equipment.
2003 was a difficult year for the Club. Following the death of its founder and driving force, Terry Sharpington, a few months of uncertainty followed until the role of Head Coach and Manager was filled by former National Coach, Paul Hall. Built on such firm foundations and good practice the Club had no choice but to expand still further, scaling new heights in gymnastics results at all levels. In 2005 a secretary was appointed to relieve the increasing burden of administering a programme that saw up to 1000 people through the doors on a weekly basis. Five full time coaches were employed alongside a host of part time and hourly paid staff, as well as a dedicated band of volunteers, all committed to continuing a unique programme that provided for gymnastics from special needs through to elite, and at all ages.
In 2006 the Club saw representation at a World Championship from both a male and a female gymnast- an incredible achievement that enhanced its reputation as one of the most successful centres in the Country. With over 10 members of National Squads and medals at European and Commonwealth Level Huntingdon has made quite a name for itself. Success breeds success and plans were submitted for a state of the art Centre in the field adjacent to the existing building, the only way to cope with an incessant demand for the Sport at all levels. Permission to build was granted in October 2006 and the future, not only of the Club, but a vital part of British Gymnastics rests with the dedicated friends of HOGC, who now chase the dream to raise some 3 million pounds and a chance for Olympic representation.
In April 2008 a 500k grant was secured from Cambridgeshire Horizons. This, together with a 10k grant from Waitrose provided the catalyst for moving the new facility forward and the Club is seeking further support to allow the new building to become a reality. Daniel Keatings became the Junior European all around Champion winning 5 medals in total, a historic achievement.
Summer 2008 saw Huntingdon create a little piece of history when Louis Smith took Britain’s first Gymnastics apparatus medal in an Olympic Games since one Walter Tysal in 1908. Daniel Keatings, still a junior, qualified for the all around final, finishing 20th and was reserve for Pommel Horse. The Club was also represented by Marissa King and Kayleigh Cooke and gained tremendous National Press Coverage for its stunning achievements. The efforts of the Trustees were also rewarded this summer, with the Club gaining Charitable Status, a vital step in securing substantial funding.
The latter part of 2008 and early 2009 saw slow progress as the Club wrangled over access issues and the necessary changing of the lease in order to move forward with its building plans. Finally, on the afternoon of May 28th 2009 Councillors Tom Sanderson, Gina Cruikshank, and Laine Kadic pushed the spade into the earth to signify yet another milestone in the Club’s exciting development. Phase 1 had begun and a much needed new reception area together with improved office space was incorporated into the existing facility. By the end of the summer the Club would see a new road access from Mayfield Rd, giving the residents of Claytons Way a much needed respite from the years of increasing traffic.
Gymnastics continued to progress through 2009, with the Mens Team taking their 4th successive British Team Title and the Girls having representation through National, Regional, and County Level. Structured preschool was added to the programme in 2008 and the recreational sessions grew to incorporate adults, special needs, as well as an increased interest from local schools keen to utilise curriculum time for gymnastics.
The high point of 2009 proved to be the World Championships, held for the first time, in London. Daniel Keatings shocked the gymnastics World by taking a historic all around Silver Medal, another first for Great Britain. Team mate Louis Smith was also commended for maintaining his excellence in qualifying for the World Pommel Horse Final. In 2010 we were represented by Cameron Mackenzie in the Gold Medal winning Junior European Team, and Daniel Keatings became Britain's first ever European apparatus Gold Medallist by winning Pommel Horse, with Louis Smith edged out for the silver. Team Silver for GB proved the amazing potential for success in 2012.
January 2010 saw Phase 1 of our ambitious expansion realised when, for the first time in its 30 year history, access to the Club was changed from Claytons Way to Mayfield Rd. A brand new reception area together with new office space and a gymnasts rest room provided much needed space for a Club already bursting at the seams. The latter part of the year saw an historic achievement from Luke Folwell, who took 5 medals at the Commonwealth Games in Delhi - the most decorated athlete from any Sport. Success also for Louis Smith at the Rotterdam World Championships, taking silver on his specialist event, the Pommel Horse. He continued in his medal winning ways by taking bronze at the World Championships in Tokyo in 2011.
The Board of Trustees worked hard to cope with a rapid expansion throughout 2010 and 2011. Six full time coaches were now underpinned by over 20 part time and volunteer staff and 2 admin assistants that were dealing with a membership of around 600. The planned expansion was once again downscaled due to a lack of funding and in late 2011, thanks to the Freemen of Huntingdon, the Club enjoyed a partial equipment refit, and initiated plans to refurbish the toilet and changing facilities.
A huge sigh of relief was breathed in January of 2012 as, finally, the GB men’s Team qualified 5 places for the London Olympics in the summer. The Team was helped by Dan Keatings and Louis Smith, who competed tremendously in a very tense O2 Arena. The GB men went on to the London Games and took an historic Team Bronze Medal, with Huntingdon's Louis Smith taking Silver on Pommel Horse, catapulting him into stardom, or at least a slot on 'Strictly Come Dancing'. The success of the Home Games raised the profile of the Club still further and the phone continued to ring with more aspiring Olympians. A further pledge of a substantial grant from British Gymnastics reopened the possibility of a second facility, albeit a scaled down version of the initial submission. Planning permission was again secured and, as of September 2012, the Trustees of the Club were busy chasing other leads and applications in order to begin building in 2013.
Building did indeed begin in March 2013, as the result of a grant of over 350k from British Gymnastics and 50k from Inspired Facilities, as well as 55k from Louis Smith and his efforts on 'The Cube' and 'Who Wants To Be A Millionaire'. Concerted efforts with local funding and support from Amey Cespa, Garfield Weston Foundation, and Huntingdon Rotarians saw the building of a new 20 metre square gym hall complete with Balcony. The building was completed in November of 2013 and opened by Sir John Major in February 2014 and named 'The 2012 Hall' with the original facility rededicated as 'The Sharpington Hall' in memory of its founder.
The new facility came with a loan and necessitated a rapid expansion in membership as well as a professionalisation of the Clubs administration and communication processes. Adam Scott was employed as Head Coach for General Gymnastics and, together with Sue Besant as Office Manager, worked diligently to double the membership, vastly increase the number of classes on offer, as well as employing 9 full time coaches and over 15 part time staff to deal with the exta workload. An improved website, together with a far less hectic working environment allowed for provision of gymnastics for all ages and abilities as well as, at last, providing better conditions for elite gymnasts to train. As Chair of Trustees, Tracy Crosland led her team through the difficult transition of building the new facility before standing down to allow Noel Kearns to continue the task of ensuring the long term legacy of the work of so many in realising the new building.
Following the London Olympics Daniel Keatings proved what a great gymnast he was by winning the European Championships on Pommel Horse in May 2013, whilst Louis Smith enjoyed a celebrity lifestyle quite unknown to all gymnasts who came before him. Louis continued to train and, in summer 2014, took bronze on Pommel Horse at the Commonwealth Games, with Keatings excelling himself at the same event - 2nd all around, Team Bronze for Scotland and a Gold medal on Pommel. The duo have Rio 2016 in their sights whilst the Club works hard to build the next generation of juniors to grace the International stage in the years to come.