On Wednesday night, Auchterarder Gymnastics Club held their 2017 Club Championships presentation night in their fantastic purpose-built facility which was packed with gymnasts, coaches and proud parents. The club is the largest children’s organisation in the Lang Toon and one of the biggest in Perthshire, and now boasts close to 500 members aged from 18 months to 18-years-old.
Eric Duff – who’s Perth City Boys’ Club Trust works closely with Auchterarder Gymnastics Club – asked me to come along to the presentation to get an idea of just how impressive and well supported the club was. Formed back in 1987 in the assembly hall of the old Auchterarder High School, over the past three decades the club has grown to extraordinary heights. In 2004, they moved into the current facility which was built thanks to tireless fundraising from the members, local community and through support from a number of different trusts and grants.
At last week’s Perth and Kinross Sports Awards, the club was recognised for its contribution to local sport by winning the Steve Brown Electrical, Club of the Year award. It was a proud moment for head coach Fiona Cameron and administrator Hilary Calderwood, and a deserved accolade given the amount of work that goes in to making the club so successful.
“We were delighted to win the Club of the Year award,” Hilary told me as the three of us sat down in the main office, “it was a great night and to have the club recognised as well as our gymnast Lilly Roy winning Young Female Sports Person of the Year was pretty special.”
One thing that is immediately clear when you speak to anyone at Auchterarder Gymnastics is the pride and passion that all of the gymnasts, coaches and supporters have for the club. Fiona told me that although many sports clubs suffer a significant drop-off in members as the kids reach their teens, they actually do very well at keeping their members active.
“We’re good at keeping the gymnasts on where other sports would maybe start to lose their participants. What we do is we make it more of a social thing for the ones who are not competing seriously. We move them to a separate night where they can come along and have chat and some fun.
“They’re not training as hard or as seriously as they would be if they were competing, but they get good exercise and it helps to keep them off the streets and out of trouble too! They get good exercise and it helps to keep them off the streets and out of trouble too!
“We’ll also try and convince some of the older ones to get involved in a bit of coaching – that keeps them involved within the club and it’s great for their own development for any future jobs or further education they might be looking to get into.”
There may be a bit of an unfair perception that gymnastics is a sport for women and girls, but with high-profile gymnasts like Louis Smith and Max Whitlock acting as great role models for the boys, there are more and more males enjoying the sport.
While Auchterarder Gymnastics Club still has a predominantly female membership, Hilary and Fiona told me that there are plenty of opportunities for the guys to get involved.
Hilary: “We’ve got around 60 or 70 boys at the club just now which is a lot less than the girls but still a pretty considerable amount for the sport of gymnastics.”
Fiona: “I think we’d have more but the club clashes with football and the only night that we have for the boys is a Tuesday! I think that impacts the numbers but we’ve still got a healthy amount of males here.”
Hilary: “We’ve got a male coach here which I think helps too. He came to the club quite late as a member with a background in judo. He was pointed in our direction through the school and he did some volunteering, before giving up his judo to focus on this. So clearly he enjoyed it!”
The club moved to its current facility back in 2004 after a huge fundraising drive where Fiona and the team had to come up with close to half a million in order to have the gym built. People often think that the club operates from the gym of The Community School of Auchterarder, but Hilary was quick to point out that this isn’t the case.
“The gym is ours,” she said, “we had to pay £400,000 to have it built and to get a twenty-year lease on the building. So it belongs to us and if the school wants to use it during the day, they have to rent the facility from Auchterarder Gymnastics Club.”
Fiona added: “It was a lot of money and we had to come up with it upfront. We received DCI funding from sportscotland that helped us to put the plans in place and it took us about four years to get everything sorted.
“The Robertson’s Trust was great with us and put forward £75,000 towards the building. There was a nice story behind that actually. Initially, we applied for £50,000 but they gave us an extra £25,000. Their reasoning was that if we managed to keep just one kid off the streets and away from drugs and other social problems, then we’d more than earned the amount.” We had to pay £400,000 to have it built and if the school wants to use it during the day, they have to rent the facility from Auchterarder Gymnastics Club.
The new facility allowed the club to increase its membership and coach numbers, meaning that more and more gymnasts were able to compete. Now, Auchterarder Gymnastics boasts 470 members training and competing at all levels up to and including national level.
Female Young Sports Person of the Year, Lilly Roy, is one of the gymnasts competing at the top level within the club and was well on her way to challenging at British level before suffering an injury last year. However Fiona still has high hopes for the young teenager.
“Lilly broke her elbow last summer which has unfortunately set her back about 6 to 8 months. She’s still young though – only 13-years-old – and I’ve said to her and also to another gymnast, Daisy that they both should be aiming high and looking towards the next Commonwealth Games.
“Of course that’s a huge thing to aim for and it will be really difficult for them to reach that target but they both have the potential to get that far so why not give it a go?”
Auchterarder Gymnastics has links with clubs throughout the world, from USA to the west and China to the east. They compete internationally every two years in Belgium, and they have just recently returned from France. And the trip to Paris was a resounding success according to Hilary and Fiona.
Fiona: “It was a really great trip and it came off the back of the Belgium tournament we normally attend. There were teams from Italy, Belgium, Spain and England and it was just a brilliant experience for everybody. The kids had a ball.”
Hilary: “We’ve been invited in the past but couldn’t go due to cost, but this time we were able to go. We costed it all and had everybody’s money in, then the organisers came back and said they’d take us all to Disneyland for the day all expenses paid! They even put buses on to meet us and ship us everywhere while we were in Paris – it was great and helped with the cost!”
Fiona: “The trip helped the kids a lot, both with their gymnastics but also their general confidence. The youngest was 9-years-old, and just from working with the older kids as part of a team you could see a huge difference in her by the time we came home. It was amazing to see.”
What both Fiona and Hilary love more than anything though, is when former gymnasts come back to pay a visit and see the next generation being put through their paces. For the Club Championships presentation, they had former gymnast – turned professional golfer – Carly Booth on hand to present the youngsters with their awards.
“When our former gymnasts come along to see us for a quick visit it’s really special,” said Fiona. When our former gymnasts come along to see us for a quick visit it’s really special.
“I only text Carly last night because I realised she was back in the area promoting the Gleneagles Golf tournament. Despite how busy she is she was still delighted to come down and give out the prizes and meet the gymnasts.
“She came along with Courtney who is also a former member of the club. To have them come back here and still be so passionate about gymnastics and get on the mat for a bit is lovely. There was another girl, Sophie, who came to see us earlier while she was back from university. We’ve got a few former members who come back during holidays and stuff to see us and even help coach. It’s great.”
The club is now so popular – not just in Auchterarder but throughout the Central Belt – that there are waiting lists at pretty much every age group, meaning the club is now operating at full capacity. I asked Hilary and Fiona if there was any possibility of numbers increasing again in the future, to which they both had the same view.
“We’d love an extension!”
Hilary went on: “I think we’ve got about half a day to spare at the moment but it is pretty much full to the max. Short of getting more coaches and extending the building, our hands are really tied just now. Hopefully we’ll be able to continue growing the club in the future!”
Perth City Boys’ Club Trust is one of the many supporters of Auchterarder Gymnastics Club. Find out more about the Trust via their website here.
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