The future of a local disabled gymnastics club that has produced “world-level” athletes is in doubt after it was told at short notice it must leave its home at Greenfields.
The secure children’s home and youth remand facility’s sports hall has been the home of the Jersey Special Gymnastics Club for more than a decade – and it now has less than a month to find an alternative.
It comes after the Jersey Care Commission ordered the Government to give the club three months to vacate the building after identifying seven regulatory breaching relating to staffing of Greenfields in late March.
The news was an extreme and devastating shock for the club – particularly as a number of athletes are due to compete in the UK next July, a qualifier for World Games in Berlin, and competition for one of three GB places is set to be strong.
It was even more shocking, Head Coach Nikki Kirkland said, as no one had consulted the team in advance. The club only heard of the Care Commission’s improvement notice through the media.
“No one consulted us, they didn’t give us a heads up... There was no face-to-face,” Nikki said.
Pictured: The club has been based at Greenfields for 14 years.
“We have been there 14 years. We always knew at some point we’d have to move. The agreement when we first moved in is that we’d have a year [to look for a new location]. Of course, none of the staff that were there then are there now.”
She said she couldn’t understand why problems at Greenfields should affect the club’s activities.
Over the 14 years the club had been there, she said it had always enjoyed a constructive relationship with Greenfields.
“I used to open up the gym on a Friday for one of their clients. We would go there in our own time so this person could use all the equipment with a qualified coach there.”
“It’s the Care Commission that are kicking us out. These are disabled children they’re suddenly just making homeless. We understand the priority is the clients [of Greenfields], but a lot of the time we’ve used the building and there’s not been any residents in there.”
While the JSGC is determined to continue its winning streak, and the upcoming World Games have added a sense of pressure, Nikki explained that the club is about so much more than just gymnastics.
Pictured: Many members of the club have enjoyed success in World Games over the years.
Nikki herself has first-hand experience of the importance of the club to both the athletes and their families.
Her involvement with the club started as a parent, with her children, Alexa (now 25) and Matthew (now 22), both involved.
When she first got involved, around 2004, the club was based up at Mont à L’Abbé. Nikki recalled how Alexa “started and absolutely loved it”, with the structure and routines designed by the Special Olympics proving giving her both comfort and joy.
Her son, meanwhile, was one of four gymnasts that went to World Games in Abu Dhabi just before the pandemic.
While the club’s successes are a source of great “pride” to both athletes and their families, the key element is the social aspect, Nikki explained.
“It’s their big social circle, because they may struggle to make friends on the ‘outside’, in mainstream settings… When we go away on trips, they absolutely love it. It’s almost like a little holiday with their friends,” Nikki said.
Pictured: Chloe Russell, Jessica Vieira and Alex Wheatley, who will be travelling to Waveney in the UK next month to try and qualify for World Games in Germany.
She later added that, for some of the athletes, if they didn’t have the regular club, they “just wouldn’t see their friends.”
For some, it also means vital time spent exercising, which they otherwise may not be able to do.
“It’s so good for all of them. The social, the communication, the fitness.”
For parents, meanwhile, it has been an important “lifeline”.
“Some children can’t attend school at the moment – that’s literally [their parents’] one-and-a-half-hour respite. They can’t leave the house.”
It’s also a joy to see the athletes flourish, Nikki says.
In her many years since being “roped in” to coach, she says there has “never been a dull day.”
“You can have a really bad day at work and coach gymnastics after work and they are beaming and laughing. One of our girls, she does her jazz hands, and it just brightens you up."
Ideally, the club wants to be able to help more people – there’s currently a waiting list to join.
It’s for all these reasons that Chair of the Club, Jeannine Carey, says they are not able to think about not finding a premises.
“It would be absolutely soul destroying if no premises could be found temporarily and the thought that the club would cease to continue is not something that we are willing to consider at the moment.”
So far, the group have been unsuccessful in their search, but are receiving help from Jersey Sport.
Recently, they looked at Elim Rock community centre, but it was sadly too small.
“We ideally require a property at least six metres high with a minimum of 30 metres in length and 16 metres wide. We will also require toilets, including a disabled toilet, a small store room for supplementary equipment, parking & access for safe drop-offs,” Jeannine explained.
One of the other benefits of having previously been at Greenfields was that the team were able to leave out their heavy equipment, not losing valuable time packing and unpacking.
To store all its equipment, the club would require a store of at least four metres in height, and a floor space of 12 metres by 10 metres.
Pictured: A large premises is needed to be able to store all of the equipment.
The Government said its officers were “in discussion with the club and Jersey Sport to find alternative accommodation.”
With no success as yet, the club are now reaching out to the public for suggestions.
“The Special Gymnastics Club was founded in 1991 by John Grady and has produced several World Champions. We hope that it will do so in the future. We would not wish to see all the work he did undone,” Jeannine said.
“The longer we are without premises the harder it will be to maintain the levels our gymnasts are currently working at, and also grow or maintain the current level of participation.”
She added: “Gymnastics is a good sport for teaching discipline, independence and a strong work ethos, and has helped many of our young special needs gymnasts thrive and go on to better things as a result.”
If you, or anybody you know can help, contact Chair Jeannine Carey or Head Coach Nikki Kirkland at email@example.com or contact the JSAD either by mail: firstname.lastname@example.org or by phone: +44 1534 872855.
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