The feel-good gym
05 November 2018 | North East England
“It’s more than just a gymnastics club, we call ourselves a family.”
The young members of Tees Valley Gymnastics Club learn a lot more than cartwheels and backflips. Allison Thain, 39, founded the club 15 years ago, with her friend, Robert Davies, and the ethos is about helping people, as well as teaching them the sport.
“It’s more than just a gymnastics club, we call ourselves a family,” she says. “We run a tuck shop and we have a little café that promotes healthy options. We make sure the kids understand muscle groups, and why they do exercise, and that goes right down to the beginners.”
Allison, who also runs a nursery within the club, says that the club is in Longlands, Middlesbrough, which suffers with a lot of social and economic challenges.
“It’s close to the town centre, and I know a lot of our members might’ve strayed into the wrong crowd or into trouble with the police. But coming to us is a safe haven, a release for them,” she says. “We keep costs down as much as possible, to allow parents who haven’t got a lot of money to still be able to send their kids. The parents appreciate what we do as much as the youngsters.”
Although the club has grown from one industrial unit to four, funding is the biggest challenge.
“It’s a voluntary organisation, so we fund ourselves from membership fees and from fundraising activities we do as a club,” she says. “We do supermarket bag packs, things like that, throughout the year. We painted our own buildings, we laid our own floor, and I carpeted some of the areas.” It’s a work ethic that’s passed onto the children.
The club is open from pre-schoolers to adults, and Allison says they all take away respect for themselves and for others from the club too.
“We try and instil that level of discipline in the kids too. They all chip in, and they have a cleaning rota as well, so they know on set days it’s their turn to check the changing rooms for example.”
Once the members reach 15 or 16, they’re able to volunteer as a coach.
“It’s giving them something to put on their CV, feel they’re giving back to us,” Allison says.
“We also give references and are there to talk to if they’re having problems at school or at home. We’re a safe haven. After 2019, we’re hoping to start an official apprentice scheme. At 16, some kids don’t know what they want to do, choose wrong courses. We’re another option – for some, they do just want to be a gymnast. They take more than just how to do a cartwheel away from our club. They take away a future, which they might not have had before.”