Perched high on a hilltop with stunning views of Ben Lomond on one side and the Firth of Clyde on the other, West Dunbartonshire Gymnastics Club (WDGC) is undoubtedly a special place. And the feeling only grows when entering the facility.
WDGC has grown its membership from 33 to 121 during three years of Direct Club Investment (DCI), a large-scale club development project which distributes National Lottery funds directly to clubs over a period of two to four years, giving them time to embed significant change.
WDGC have achieved a great deal on that front.
In Brucehill, a deprived* area of Dumbarton, they have secured a dedicated gymnastics facility in partnership with West Dunbartonshire Leisure.
Membership has grown steadily thanks to close collaboration with Active Schools. The club is strongly committed to inclusion and has devised a free scholarship scheme that will benefit 10 pupils from St Michael’s and Dalreoch primary schools who might not have the means to join the club.
A disability programme is also in the pipeline, and the whole enterprise is built on a bedrock of strong leadership. Members are encouraged and offered a pathway to get involved in volunteering and coaching alongside their gymnastics activity, or after hanging up their competitive leotards.
One such individual is 18-year-old Jennifer Cuthbert, one of the founding members of the club and now in her second year of a French and Italian degree at the University of Glasgow, but more than ever committed to gymnastics.
She recalls: “When I first started gymnastics I was six years old, and I started with the West Dunbartonshire Council classes. I progressed through those classes and then I started at the club when it opened in 2011.
“It’s amazing to see how the club has grown since leaving the leisure centre and coming to this new facility. There is definitely a clear pathway for people who also want to grow within the club.
“I started to think about coaching when I was starting to phase out as a gymnast, at 14. I had seen the coaches and they were such positive role models that I thought it was something I would like to do as well.
“The way it works, you work through being a volunteer and doing your volunteer booklet, and then you work towards being an assistant coach and helping a more qualified coach with their class until you’re fully confident.
“I’m hoping to do my Level 2 coaching qualification at some point in the next year and I’m going to Camp America next summer to coach gymnastics and I’m really looking forward to that.”
DCI enables clubs to hire professional development staff to accelerate membership growth over a set time period. But WDGC have made the development coordinator role sustainable for future years. A successful application to the Big Lottery Fund will enable the club to pursue its inclusive agenda through initiatives like the scholarship and disability programmes.
Jenny Davidson, 27, became development coordinator at WDGC in 2014 and returned to the role in September 2018 after taking a year out.
She says: “From the start we set out to make this a community club and we’ve always made that clear. That’s one of the reasons the club has been successful and able to maintain its structure and function.
“Getting our own home was a massive step because there was a clearly a demand for gymnastics in the area and word of mouth has continued to increase that demand.
“We wanted to improve the sessions and the number of gymnastics disciplines we could offer to people, and the dedicated facility enabled us to do that.
“At the same time we were able to recruit a Level 3 coach and develop our own in-house coaches and volunteers by giving young leaders a pathway to remain in the sport. Parents also play a vital role in the running of the club, with 12 of them joining our founder Cheryl Lappin on the board.
“Being part of the wider Scottish Gymnastics family is also very important to us. They support us in a variety of areas from club operations to governance – we had to change our legal status – and also by giving us access to networking and development opportunities. It’s been amazing to be part of the Scottish Gymnastics Leadership Academy.
Pathway for young people
“One of the things I’m most proud of is the free scholarships we have been able to give to 10 young people from two local primary schools. We make sure membership is affordable for everyone and support families with discounts on competition leotards and sibling membership discounts.
“Above all, the most rewarding part of the job has been the legacy we’ve been able to create by giving young people that pathway to stay involved after they finish competing. Jen Cuthbert, for example, was one of the founding members of the club and now she has found her own niche as a tumbling coach.
“To see someone like Jen grow as a coach and as a person through West Dunbartonshire Gymnastics Club has been incredibly rewarding.”
Jennifer Cuthbert adds: “I would love to keep going with gymnastics for a long time. I want to keep working to up my coaching qualifications.
“When I started off I was quite shy, because it is a big leap from being one of the gymnasts. But working with other coaches has definitely helped me grow in confidence.”