Disappointed gymnasts question "suspicious" delay of Ripon Gymnastics Academy

Hundreds of disappointed Ripon gymnasts are demanding answers following the sudden and unexpected temporary closure of the popular Ripon Gymnastics Academy.

Friday, 9th September 2016, 11:50 am
Updated Thursday, 15th September 2016, 4:01 pm
Ripon Leisure Centre

Parents were left shocked this month after staff at the Ripon Leisure Centre informed them that the academy was being put on a temporary hold.

After an inspiring summer of Olympic gymnastic success and with just one week until training sessions were due to resume, baffled parents were left searching for answers.

Leisure centre staff stated that "operational service issues" were to blame for the suspension but refused to confirm when classes would resume.

A statement released by Harrogate Borough Council explained that the availability of "fully qualified staff" was the reason for the delay, stressing the programme had not been cancelled.

However, Cara-Jane Feingold, a coach at the academy, questioned this explanation as before the summer there were "more than enough" qualified staff to run the service.

She said: "I had just returned from travelling and just before September, the leisure centre left me a voicemail to say the class would no longer be running.

"The council are saying they don't have enough qualified staff but at no point have the council come up to me and asked if I would be able to run it.

"Some parents have been told that the programme will restart in two weeks but others have been advised to go and find another class.

"Everyone is receiving different messages from the council and they are not giving any more detail about what's going on. It's very suspicious."

Ms Feingold said that around 350 children attended the gymnastics class and admitted concerns that families and coaches would leave before classes returned.

Ripon resident Ian Kendall was left baffled when he heard his eight-year-old daughter would not be able to return to her beloved class and approached HBC for answers.

Despite being told by two HBC Cabinet members that "staffing issues" was to blame for the delay, Mr Kendall received a different explanation from Chief Executive Wallace Samson.

Mr Kendall said he was intrigued when the Chief Executive told him it was "“not our policy to disclose information where an individual has been suspended pending an investigation."

HBC did not offer an explanation for Mr Samson's comments but Coun Stam Lumley, cabinet member for Culture and Sport confirmed the issues were "sensitive matters".

He said: "“The operational service issues which have led to the temporary delay in the recommencement of the gymnastics service at Ripon Leisure Centre could not have been anticipated.

"We felt it was better to delay the start of the programme rather than commence the programme only to suspend it at short notice.

"We are working hard to find a solution and hope to be in a position soon to announce what that is.”

Coun Lumley apologised to both new and returning participants and many parents expressed their disappointment at the temporary cancellation of a cherished class.

Mr Kendall said: "At a time when the sporting success of the Olympics should be harnessed and our young talented gymnasts be nurtured, HBC make a decision to close a successful club. I find the timing quite incredible.

"Suspending the club is frustrating enough, but the cloak and dagger approach the Leisure Centre and the Council have taken in explaining the situation is bewildering.

"I cannot praise the club enough. The way the sessions are run with unfaltering enthusiasm and professionalism is a credit to the lead coach and her staff."

Paddy Hinton has a five-year-old daughter at the academy and said he believed the council had pre-planned the delay of the programme from as early as July.

He said: "The unusual lack of renewal letters at the end of the summer term, could be seen as a planned withdrawal of the scheme.

"Whatever is going on, it is the kids who work hard at their sport that I feel sorry for especially after the success of the Olympic Gymnastic Team this programme would have been even more popular."

Amanda King said her eight-year-old daughter was "heartbroken" with the delay and the lack of time-scale means she is considering finding an alternative club.

She said: "My daughter only started Gymnastics in February 2016 but has worked so hard and practices every day her walkovers, cartwheels and jumps.

"She was so pleased to receive a certificate and medal most improved gymnast at the end of the Summer term in July and was really looking forward to starting again in September.

"I can't help but feel that this may be another great loss to Ripon which means we have to travel further afield to ensure our children are inspired by different learning experiences."