Another controversial pool-shutting idea has caused the latest in-fighting down at the Civic.
After it was apparently agreed to shelve the idea of closing Tunstall pool and Burslem Gymnastics Centre, it has now emerged that in “secret” talks which remained private to avoid the matter becoming a “political issue”, cabinet councillors have continued talks to go ahead with the unpopular idea.
Leaving aside the fact that this is the kind of civil Civic war that has led to so many mistakes in the past, with councillors spending more time battling each other and attempting to achieve political gain than serving the electorate, it worries me that the authority is considering taking away long-standing instituions to balance the short-term books.
I find it very difficult to believe that the facilities at the Burslem gym could be replicated easily within the Dimensions, which ironically itself, of course, not long ago faced closure under ‘cost-cutting’ plans.
For the many who probably were unaware of what on the outside looks a bit like the house from a Halloween film, the Burslem Gymnastics centre is actually a great facility for budding gymnasts and contains the equipment that you may only have previously seen on TV screenings of the olympics. Yes, on the outskirts of Burslem there is actually the apparatus associated with the kind of awe-inspiring athletes that you see swinging around the high bar, performing eye-wateringly painful-looking manoeuvres whilst holding onto a pair of rings, attempting somersaults and multiple backflips along a beam a matter of inches wide, and leaping along the floor to music amid twisting flights over a piece of stuffed leather they call the vault.
I know this because I was once one of the young things with the aspirations of becoming a world-class gymnast. Unfortunately, though, doing the splits didn’t agree with me and I had to admit that my body just wasn’t made for such feats of suppleness, despite the fun I had swinging around the bars.
But the point is, the setup at the centre is one of few in the country, and is something that should be being preserved as a treasure of Stoke’s sporting facilities, and invested in, rather than being destroyed and moved to a room in another sports centre. It is not just a few bits of equipment that can be set up again somewhere else. There is a fully-sprung gymnastics floor, a pit of sponge into which practising gymnasts can fall after plummeting from a missed high bar-swing-catch, the pommel-horse, beams, vaulting equipment, parallel bars, the list goes on. Such an organisation needs the space of its own building to exist.
Because the likes of this centre are few and far between, it also means that some of the country’s medal-winning gymnasts have actually learned their trade at this centre in Burslem, and without it, may never have taken up the sport.
I understand that we have to tighten the purse strings right now, but for God’s sake, hands off little treasures like this of which we can be proud.