AcroNova: How they managed a community asset transfer

Young gymnasts practice on the floor

Spiralling rent costs were the initial push for this new gymnasium, but the project has grown into something far bigger. From a modern, energy-efficient and accessible building, AcroNova are growing an ambitious club. But without compromising their ideal – of keeping their sport affordable to all.

Facts and figures

Type of project: conversion of disused council building to a 10,000 square-foot gymnastics facility

Type of organisation behind the project: Constituted Sports Club - AcroNova Gymnastics Club

Uses of facilities: gymnastics, tumbling

Location: Buccleugh Street, Birkenhead, CH41 8HX

Funding: Overall cost: c. £290,000. Sport England contribution: £125,000. Other significant funding: Biffa Awards £50,000, Foundation for Sports and Arts £20,000, Awards for All £10,000, Magenta Housing annual grants of £2,500.

Key events & milestones

Date Event
2008 AcroNova Gymnastics Club founded (as Wallasey Gymnastics)
  Jim Mulholland becomes chair of the club
2010 Decision taken to find own facility (club name changed to Acronova)
  New facility site identified
2012 Agreement for lease for new facility received from Wirral Council
2014 Conversion work begins
2016 Facility opens

 

AcroNova’s new club building was founded in response to the increasing costs they were paying to use their existing facility. The weekly rent for the sports hall jumped from £600 to £750 per week – and this for facilities they felt were too basic for their members’ needs.

The club’s founders wanted to save on costs and leave a legacy for future gymnastics coaches, but when they set out to do this, they didn’t have ambitions to build anything as impressive as what they ended up with:

“By 2010 they had had £18,000 from our club. So we decided to find somewhere of our own. We didn’t think it would be this size, just somewhere to put a mat down!’” says Jim Mulholland, club chair.

Acquiring the building

With the intention of finding a small piece of land to build on, the club put out some feelers out amongst their local contacts. This is how they were put in touch with David Dickenson, the asset management surveyor at Wirral Council. It was Mr Dickenson who suggested the site on Buccleugh Street, which had been acquired by the council after it fell into disuse.

After some hard work by AcroNova members and Mr Dickenson, the club was able to develop a detailed plan for how they would develop the site and meet the council’s expectations. They secured the site on a 100-year lease at ‘peppercorn rent’ – paying a nominal (next-to-nothing) amount.

By 2010 they had had £18,000 from our club. So we decided to find somewhere of our own. We didn’t think it would be this size, just somewhere to put a mat down!

Jim Mulholland, club chair

One of the main drivers of this project was the club’s desire to get the most out of every penny they were spending. This intention drove decisions to install state-of-the-art insulation materials and to heat the new gymnasium using overhead panels powered by a bio-mass boiler. Local tree surgeons have agreed to provide free firewood, delivering huge reductions in energy costs. The demolition of a second derelict building in front of the new gymnasium also allowed for the creation of a natural drainage system under a gravel car park, reducing water rates from £10,000 to £150 a year.

The involvement of a local builder associated with the club was another big money-saver for AcroNova. He delivered the project at cost and, having been involved from the start, understood and met the specifics of its plans.

These incredible cost-savings are expected to play a big part in making the club self-sufficient.

 

Children practice displays at a gymnasium

A grand scheme

AcroNova didn’t set out to build a large gymnasium. It was the size of the derelict building that took them in that direction. But it’s a facility that they’re growing into; their business model is based on increasing their membership year-on-year, something they’re already doing well at.

A young adult coach helps a child train in gymnastics

A legacy for coaches

One of AcroNova’s driving motivations for creating their own facility was to create a legacy for their young coaches. Jade Dixon, 26, has attended the club since she was 14. She now coaches:

“We have bigger classes," she says. "It’s given everyone a boost as it’s a nice place to train. We never used to have many parents stay, but now a few do, and help with costumes and volunteering.”

A car park with natural drainage system

Green savings

Initial outlays on state-of-the-art insulation and heating systems have removed the burden of ongoing energy bills, reducing them by 97%. Installing a natural drainage system under their car park has slashed water rates from £10,000 to £150 a year.

A young woman with Down's Syndrome laughs during training in a gymnasium

An inclusive club

“Our vision is to provide disabled people the same opportunities and choices as non-disabled people to participate, stay and excel in sport,” – club chair Jim Mulholland.

AcroNova run a club which is open to all. Specialist training for their coaches in disability sport development has broadened the classes they can offer. They’ve also taken steps to make the building as accessible as possible, using our Inspired Facilities grant to install a lift to the mezzanine level and a car park with 10 disabled spaces.

Parents watch their children train in gymnastics from a mezzanine floor

Visitors

The quality of AcroNova’s facilities draws in gymnasts from across the Wirral. It’s become a community hub with parents choosing to stay and watch their children perform from the viewing gallery, where they can enjoy a cup of tea or snack. The kitchen operates on an honesty-box system, with people paying whatever they can afford.

Keeping sport affordable

AcroNova charge £30 a month for 25 hours of floor time, other clubs of similar status charge £96 for 12 hours. Thanks to the energy-efficient new building, nominal rental costs and a planned increase in income thanks to the expanded capacity of their facility, they intend to keep their charges static. AcroNova is based in one of England’s most deprived areas. Keeping local access to their facilities affordable is hugely important to the club. They operate a discreet policy of never turning away children who cannot afford to pay:

“It’s affordable, it’s £4 a session for 1.5hrs on weekends, disability sessions are £3. We are the cheapest around. There are a couple of kids that you would never turn away if they can’t afford to pay – only we know that,” – Karen Jones, welfare officer.

The future

AcroNova have ambitious plans. They’re hiring out their facilities to other gymnastics clubs and are in talks with local schools about using their coaches in sports lessons and the new gymnasium for end-of-year displays.

A bank of foldaway chairs has been bought from a local theatre, allowing larger audiences to be seated at tournaments and displays. But they’re keen to improve their equipment and facilities. Planned additions include:

  • A separate judges’ room so that they can retire and adjudicate away from competitors
  • An audio-visual room to bring professional lighting and sound to displays
  • Bars, beams and vaults to expand training into different disciplines.

Our take on the project

Through our funding, we aim to nurture projects which address the five health, social and economic outcomes set out in the Government’s Sporting Future strategy. We feel that AcroNova strongly supports two of these outcomes in particular; individual development and social and community development.

AcroNova operate in an area which is ranked as the 24th most deprived in England. It’s the 12th most deprived nationally in terms of health and disability.

The provision of a state-of-the-art sports facility in the residential heart of this community brings sporting opportunities to the doorstep and, coupled with low fees, informal subsidies and partnerships with local schools, will make those opportunities affordable to people who are in lower socio-economic groups.

Great efforts have also been made to ensure the building is fully accessible, with our Inspired Facilities grant funding the installation of a lift to the mezzanine floor and a car park with 10 disabled spaces.

Further Reading

You've been reading a summary of AcroNova's story. To learn about the journey they took in greater detail open/download the PDF below: