About the History of West Wight Sports Centre

A story of real community spirit, triumph over adversity and sheer determination. It is the efforts of those people that have left the legacy of the West Wight Sports Centre which has become an integral part of the West Wight way of life and will do for generations to come.

The story of West Wight Swimming Pool and how it became West Wight Sports Centre began way back in the early 1970’s when a group of parents got together and decided there was a need to teach local children to swim. They hired hotel and holiday camp pools, went to Crystal Palace on the mainland, got themselves trained and so formed the West Wight Swimming Club.

In those days there was no luxury, dingy pools with dubious hygiene, and inadequate heating meant that those who actually managed to learn to swim were certainly toughened by the experience!

Eventually, the swimming club decided enough was enough, and, taking a giant leap, proceeded to build their own pool. They had no financial support from any organisation and quite literally set about digging the hole themselves. Many jumble sales, auctions and car boot sales later they had a pool which was opened for use by the late Lord Louis Mountbatten in 1978.

So they had a pool to swim in, but that was about it – changing rooms were made of hardboard, and were waterlogged within weeks of opening. Heating consisted of a couple of calor gas heaters located in each changing room – swimmers huddled around them after training sessions drinking hot soup from flasks and trying to avoid the puddles and drips. The roof was finally complete in November 1978 and swimmers carried on using the pool all that time. Often the difference in water temperature and air temperature meant that there was a thick fog over whole pool!

Now that the swimming club had a pool, numerous legal and other responsibilities fell on the swimming club’s shoulders and so West Wight Swimming Pool Trust was established. This organisation took on the ownership and management and in 1983; the South Wight Borough Council assisted the Trust in the completion of the pool and changing rooms.

Most organisations would be content with that achievement, but not the West Wight Swimming Pool Trust. Fund raising continued tirelessly under the banner of SPLASH which supported the funding of new equipment and the activities of the club.

The next stage of the dream was to build a learner pool. In October 1989, the West Wight Swimming Pool Trust called a public meeting in the nearby Freshwater Memorial Hall to assess interest in this expansion. The first money was pledged there and then and just 14 months and £60,000 later the new pool opened. It was an incredible achievement for this small community. Almost every organisation in the West Wight contributed in some way.

The club has built on its hardy beginnings and produced a long line of successful swimmers. Its proudest moment so far is Darren Mew’s Commonwealth Games medal success in 1998. Darren went on to compete at the 2000 Olympics in Sydney. He is a real local hero!

Stage three of the dream was next – the building of a sports hall. There had been talk since the learner pool was built that maybe one day they might be able to do this – few really believed in this part of the dream at that time and certainly those who did believe, only had thoughts of a small hall built near the pools.

Then Totland Parish Council received £250,000 in the form of a planning gain from the developers of a local site. Being in the parish of Freshwater, and with Totland as neighbours this didn’t immediately have any implications to the West Wight Swimming Pool Trust. However, with wonderful foresight, Totland parish decided they would like to join forces with the Trust and put in an application to the national lottery for funding to build a sports centre.

The application was finally submitted in March 1997. The letter giving notice that the project would be granted £1.8 million of lottery funds was received in December 1998.

In May 2000, the new Centre and refurbished pools opened to the public. The facility consists of the two pools, sports hall, meeting room and crèche, multi-purpose room, fitness room, hairdressing salon, café and licensed bar.

The West Wight Swimming Pool Trust has now changed its name to West Wight Sports Centre Trust now employs over 50 staff to run the Centre. The Trustees come from a range of backgrounds from throughout the community and the Centre provides a vast range of activities for the benefit of both local residents and tourists. It has become a major asset to the West Wight community.

The original voluntary ethos and organisation’s charitable status has been maintained with none of the Trustees taking a penny of expenses from the business but knowledge of this has been lost as people have moved or sadly passed away, younger generations have grown up and new people have moved into the area.

A couple of local people have been given National recognition over the years; Shirley Miles was awarded a BEM and Trevor Collins became the ‘Unsung Hero’ BBC Sports Personality of the year.

Many Olympians from the past and present have been involved with, trained or even coached at West Wight Sports centre including Sharon Davies, David Wilkie and local boy Darren Mew.

This project intends to ensure that the achievements of those people who contributed in making the West Wight Sports Centre a success over the years are told before it is lost and the people involved given recognition through the project being able to tell their story.