Sports editor Mike Parsons goes behind the scenes at Warrington Gymnastics Club in the latest 'Our Club' feature

WHEN walking through the door at Warrington Gymnastics Club it is easy to see why an incredible journey over the past five years continues to be a successful one.

On my visit to the Wharf Street facilities there was movement, determination, enthusiasm and smiles everywhere I observed.

OTHER 'OUR CLUB' FEATURES: Phoenix Fire Boxing Club, Sport4Kids, Appleton Netball Club

Looking at the two Howley industrial units from the outside, the contrast to the home Warrington Gymnastics Club have made for themselves inside is one that literally makes the jaw drop.

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Warrington Guardian:

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“Sometimes people don’t always realise what’s on their doorstep,” said volunteer Jan Heaton as she showed me around the performance centre for squad members as well as a second recreational gymnast facility across the car park.

Five years ago Jan, a teacher, and fellow volunteer Mandi Mellor, who worked in the print industry, took the bull by the horns to secure funding and new premises for a club that had outgrown its home on the fifth floor of Evans House in Norman Street.

“We didn’t have the foggiest what we were doing,” admitted Jan, but their vision and energy paid dividends as they turned ‘derelict’ workspace into a home fit for developing and nurturing athletes of all ages and abilities - including British Championships standard.

“We finally moved in four years ago and we’ve had success after success.

“Approximately 250 children were on the books when we moved, but now we’ve got 1,200 to 1,500 children coming through the doors every week.”

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Club members train for anything between 40 minutes and 27 hours in the gym, while coaching is headed up full-time by the Whelan sisters, former professional Sophie and two-times Olympian Hannah, while their mum and gymnastics judge Karen is on board too.

“They’re total inspirations,” said Jan.

“Everything they do is inspirational - to the children they are working with and the personnel working alongside them. They’re a formidable team really.”

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Warrington Guardian:

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Club welfare officer Jan remains a volunteer and she is in her ‘happy space’ when watching the gymnasts in action. They include her daughter, Kara, who followed in mum’s footsteps in taking up the sport at the club from a young age.

“Things have progressed and we’ve grown so much that Mandi has come on board as a full-time member of staff,” added Jan, who joined the operations manager at Buckingham Palace earlier this year as nominees for the Queen’s Award on the back of what they have achieved and put in place for generations of gymnasts to come.

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Mandi Mellor, left, and Jan Heaton, right, all dressed up for Buckingham Palace

Not resting on their laurels, two years ago the club, which is run as a self-funding not-for-profit organisation, invested in raised pits to enhance the facilities in the performance centre as the recreational side of the club moved into a neighbouring unit.

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The raised pits can be seen at the rear of the performance centre in the two pictures above

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The recreational facility in the neighbouring unit

“We had this vision and of what we wanted it to be,” said Jan.

And the community benefit is there for all to see.

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What the gymnasts say:

Megan Smith: I like coming down to the club because it has a really good atmosphere.

All the coaches and all the gymnasts are really friendly. I love learning new skills every day and it’s just a pleasure to be here.

I come down to train four nights a week and one night a week I coach some of the little ones.

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It’s hard to say which I like doing the most because they’re both special in their own way.

There’s some days where you feel a bit tired and you don’t want to go but the coaches and the other gymnasts help you get through it.

Since coming here I’ve made friends for life.

Lucy Swann: I come down to the club five nights per week and do 23 hours.

I do homework on the days I’ve got off and I rest so that I’m ready for the next day.

The people around you help you to get through when it’s hard.

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And when you’re learning new skills you just want to keep coming back so that you are able to do them and eventually compete them.

I would recommend the club because the coaches are really nice and friendly and it’s just a good environment to be in.

Iris Bray: Everybody’s friendly and the coaches are nice and always trying to gee you on with everything that you do, saying: “Come on, you can do this.”

I come to the club four days a week for four hours and I make a lot of friends here.

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My dream is to go to the Olympics. I just want to get there bit by bit, like doing the British Championships and all the competitions.

I like doing the competitions, getting to show your family what you’ve been doing in the sessions and showing off your skills that you’ve learned.

Katie Forrest: I came to the club three or four years ago and then I started coaching last October. I’m starting to enjoy coaching more than taking part myself, but I do still enjoy doing gymnastics.

As a young leader, you learn how to become a coach and you can also go into the judging pathway.

We organise fundraisers and we help out with events at the gym.
I’m academy captain so I organise all the meetings.

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We have logbooks so that we can log our hours and then we send them to British Gymnastics and we can get rewards for it. You can go on coaching courses and get qualifications.

I enjoy it because it’s helping people become better and through your gymnastics you can give what you’ve learned to other people.

It’s a really friendly club and everybody’s welcomed into it.

Warrington Gymnastics Club's record of success in the first half of 2018:


  • Gymfusion team performed at Leeds Gymfest


  • Members competed at the English Championships
  • At the Cheshire and Merseyside grades; Beth Jones, Iris LH, Millie Broudie and Megan Smith were crowned overall champions at various grades. Many more individual medals for WGC over the two days.
  • Gymfusion team performed in Manchester Lowry Theatre


  • Darcy Chesters reselected for England Squad 2018
  • Five members qualified to represent the north west tumbling team at Birmingham Arena
  • At the Northwest team finals, two overall champions confirmed at different grades
  • Cheshire and Merseyside overall champions, many more medals received by WGC
  • Young Leaders started
  • Head coach Sophie Whelan became a high performance coach
  • Kara Heaton and Darcy Chesters competed at the British Championships in Liverpool Echo Arena. Kara produced a great clean round, Darcy came away with a bronze medal on bars


  • At the North West National Grades, WGC celebrated an overall champion plus lots of other medals
  • Gymnasts represented the north west in national team finals and they qualified to represent the north west tumbling team at Birmingham Arena


  • Hannah Whelan passed her level 4 coaching exam with flying colours
  • Five overall champions’ titles and lots more medals won by WGC gymnasts at the Cheshire and Merseyside Floor and Vault competition
  • Two of the club’s boys won medals at the English Tumbling Championships


  • At Middlesbrough Gymnastics Festival, Gymfusion won best choreography
  • Five overall champions were crowned and many more medals were earned at the Northwest Floor and Vault Championships
  • At the North West Open, four overall champions successes and a qualification score achieved to compete at the Challenge Cup later this year. Many more medals for WGC were won
  • Club celebrated a North West Team final success for one of its tumblers, with two qualifying for national finals
  • British Championship qualification secured by a WGC tumbler
  • Mandi Mellor and Jan Heaton represented WGC at Buckingham Palace

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