BORN from small beginnings and a different pool, Highworth Phoenix Diving Club is now a thriving facility for young divers from across the area, writes LAURA LAMBERT.
Moving from Wroughton to a larger pool at Highworth Recreation Centre in 2008 enabled the club to expand, and it now has a healthy crop of 50 members and an updated name.
With a shortage of facilities nearby, members come from as far afield as Bristol and Oxford to learn to dive under the tutelage of chief coach Irene Aldridge.
Having been a stalwart at the club since 1988, Aldridge explains the unprecedented rise in numbers that came after the success of Tom Daley at London 2012.
“There’s been a surge of interest, we had a waiting list of 32 at one time and we currently have a waiting list for our beginners’ section,” she said.
“A lot of them talk about Tom Daley, and now with Splash on TV it’s another inspiration to try diving. I get phone calls every week or communication through the website. Lots of youngsters want to try diving now.
“We expect the level of interest to die down a bit, but with the Commonwealth Games this summer we’ll expect another surge.”
The club has members ranging in age from five up to mid-50s, and abilities stretching from complete beginners to advanced divers. Four assistant coaches and some young trainee coaches are on hand to support Aldridge in managing the wide range of members.
There are club nights every Monday for junior members, covering all the different ability levels. The advanced junior group also trains on a Wednesday night, during which they also do some dryside training and conditioning work. The children who are most likely to naturally fall into this group are those from a trampolining or gymnastics background, Aldridge has found.
“Those who are good at gymnastics and trampolining are typically good at diving too, there’s quite a clear crossover,” she said.
“The thing they do struggle with, however, is learning to land on their heads, not their feet.
“If there are locals from this sort of background who want to have a go, we could definitely fit them in.”
The adult group trains after that session finishes and involves some divers who have only recently taken up the sport. Currently, training only takes place during term-time, but the club is hoping to put on additional workshops this summer, with extra coaches brought in.
Although the dedication of the committee members and coaches provides an excellent foundation for the members, Aldridge is aware that the facilities and funding could be better.
“Our facilities aren’t brilliant, we are constrained by what we have. We have to make the most of what we have, unless there is a new pool built. We don’t get any funding.
“However, what we have now is far better than we had in Wroughton. If our members want to take their diving further, they will at some point need to move somewhere else.
“One of our divers, Catherine Johnston, moved to Reading and ended up with a scholarship to the University of Texas for diving. She has now been competing on the college circuit over there for four years.”
Despite grander facilities elsewhere, the quality of the coaching and talent of the members is such that the youngsters can still compete with the very best at county and regional level.
It is not uncommon for members to return from competitions weighed down with medals.
For those that want to compete there are plenty of events on offer throughout the year and Aldridge will accompany them wherever possible.
One of the youngest divers, seven-year-old Maisie Cooke, won a medal in January in the county novice competition while 16-year-old Katherine Swann has qualified for the regional age group competition in Plymouth at the end of February.
“That’s the next level up from county and we hope Katherine might come back with a medal.
“It’s a big competition, so I’m hoping to take her to Reading beforehand so she can have a couple of sessions on the five-metre platform, as we don’t have one.”
When asked about the general feeling in the club, the previous bemoaning of funding and facilities is outweighed by an overarching sense of optimism.
“It’s very buoyant. It’s very exciting because we have such young talent coming through.
“The kids come along and enjoy it, whatever their inspiration for getting involved in the sport, from aspiring to be the next Tom Daley, to wanting to try a different sport.”