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Inside the North East Gymnastics Studio with Inclusivity at its Heart

June 2023
Reading time 3 Minutes

Birtley-based Northern Hope Gymnastics Centre is fundraising to replace damaged equipment after flooding, and to install a new competition-standard sprung floor to help its gymnasts to reach their full potential

We caught up with Lynn Hope, director and head coach at the centre, to find out more.

Northern Hope Gymnastics began as an after-school gym club at Fatfield Primary School in Washington in 1986 and from there it grew into a community club running on evenings and weekends from the school hall. However, director of the club Lynn Hope always wanted her own premises as the constant setting up and putting away of equipment within a school hall was tiring and time-consuming. When she came across a possible premises on her way to a class, she contacted the owners and arranged a visit.

‘With the help of Gateshead Council, we were lucky enough to get “change of use” permission, as well as a £25,000 grant from Sport England to upgrade the building to the standard we required,’ explains Lynn. ‘We moved into the premises in 2012, after “Thunder Thursday” forced us out of the school hall, and a handful of loyal parents helped us clean, paint and prepare the building while the children trained! Our official opening display was in July 2013, when we revealed our change of name to Northern Hope Gymnastics. We felt that the change of facility required a new start with a brand-new name!’

Since then Northern Hope has become a popular community hub offering a range of classes for all ages and abilities. ‘Our classes start with pre-school (walking to reception age) where the children learn grass root skills alongside a fabulous British Gymnastics Awards Scheme,’ Lynn tells us. ‘Our “heroes” are our general classes and the next step up from pre-school. Gymnasts in these classes learn skills on all the regular gymnastics equipment whilst having lots of fun and working through the BG Rise award scheme. They also have the opportunity to compete in in-house competitions and displays which gives them a taste of competitive gymnastics.

‘As well as these classes we have a drop in My Club session and Stay and Play sessions for those not wishing to commit to a weekly class. These are more flexible and less structured where the gymnasts can learn at their own pace or just have a little fun with their friends. We have also recently re-started our Adult Gymnastics classes, which is a great way to keep fit and have lots of fun!’

Rising costs and ongoing issues with flooding in the gym mean that they are now trying to raise money to replace essential equipment which was damaged in the last bout of floods. Altogether, Northern Hope need to raise a grand total of £30,000 to upgrade their facilities and continue supporting young people living in and around Washington. The addition of a raised competition-standard sprung floor would allow the gym to continue training all of its gymnasts even when flooding takes place.

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Lynn tells us: ‘Over the 10 years we have been in the centre we have had two or three floods per year which have damaged our equipment – sometimes irreversibly. Unfortunately, because of the logistics of the building and the surrounding drainage, this will continue to happen, hopefully not as horrendously as in the past. We feel that if we have a raised sprung floor around the flooding area, there would be less damage to the easily destroyed matting.

‘If our club was to fold tomorrow, not only would there be hundreds of sad children, but our coaches and parents would also be upset. This place is a community and a family as well as a centre for leisure. We try to keep our costs as low as possible as we are in an area of little affluence and feel without this club in the area, some parents just may not be able to attend a different venue of the same standard.’

So far, Northern Hope have been raising funds through a range of fun activities and events at the gym. However, to reach their ambitious fundraising goal they are hoping to raise awareness about their campaign across the wider North East region.

‘We have constantly ongoing fundraising – raffles, tombolas, sponsored activities, fun days, sleepovers – you name it,’ says Lynn. ‘We also have a TotalGiving page which we are trying to promote on social media. We annually enter into the Cash For Kids Sports Challenge which helps us and vulnerable children in the North of England.

‘We always welcome sponsorship from local companies and are planning a sponsor wall to advertise their logos. If anyone wishes to volunteer for our fundraising campaigns or to help in the gym, we are very welcoming to making any new friends.’

Northern Hope’s club has nurtured successful British Gymnasts hailing from the North East such as GB squad member Isaac Bennison, who has been selected for three world championships in Tumbling, along with Beth Ayre and Lani Ravenhall who are currently on the English Squad and both had their first international competitions last year. Paige Harvey and Lily Guy, who won places in two national finals and were ranked second in Great Britain in the Disability Competitions also train at Northern Hope.

When you walk into the parent's area, you are therefore greeted with a wall of photographs of past and current national and international medallists. ‘I wanted to celebrate the club’s and our gymnasts’ successes with the gymnasts being commemorated for all to see,’ says Lynn. ‘At present, there are around 40 gymnasts’ smiling faces on our wall and hopefully a few more to be added when this competition season ends.’

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Although the gym boasts alumni who have been successful at major gymnastics competitions, Northern Hope’s philosophy is focused on participation over performance. The gym has become a pillar of the local community, where children of all ages and abilities are able to develop friendships while also improving their gymnastics, practical and social skills. The club not only champions competitive gymnasts with a lot of potential, but also enables children of all abilities, including those with disabilities, to experience the joy of practicing gymnastics.

‘Our centre aims to improve the social, mental and physical wellbeing of our gymnasts, parents and coaches,’ says Lynn. ‘Our general and pre-school classes are fully inclusive. This means any child with additional needs is welcome to join the classes with their peers and we aim to accommodate their needs as best we can. Discussions with parents on how to do this are fundamental before they begin. Additional help could be parent participation alongside the child, risk assessments according to their needs and/or a one-to-one coach or young leader. Gymnasts who show a special talent are nurtured through our squad program, and hopefully progress towards regional, national and international events.

‘We believe in not only performance but participation and inclusion for all gymnasts, whatever age, race or ability. We feel that every child deserves the same chance to succeed and shine as any other, at their own personal level. We pride ourselves on seeing every child shine and their parents’ proud faces fill our hearts with happiness.’

For more information head to their website or to donate visit their fundraising page

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