Ponds Forge closure is leaving ‘a very big hole in a lot of lives’

Sheffield divers have warned of the devastating impact keeping Ponds Forge closed will have on hundreds of athletes and dozens of staff.

By Molly Williams, local democracy reporter
Monday, 17th August 2020, 10:40 am
Updated Monday, 17th August 2020, 11:44 am
Sheffield's Sofia Sathio and Victoria Ward take to the boards for the Girls A/B 3M Synchro.Picture: Marie Caley NSST Diving MC 2
Sheffield's Sofia Sathio and Victoria Ward take to the boards for the Girls A/B 3M Synchro.Picture: Marie Caley NSST Diving MC 2

The news Sheffield City Trust would not reopen Ponds Forge International Sports Centre this month with other facilities left many “heartbroken” and in tears.

There are seven clubs, including swimming, diving and water polo, which operate from the venue with a total of 1,400 competitive members who train alongside recreational users.

The City of Sheffield Diving Club has been based at the site since 1991 when the venue first opened. It has 22 members of staff and trains hundreds of people including those targeting the rescheduled Tokyo Olympic Games next year.

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Sheffield Diving Junior Elite Team at Ponds Forge in 2019 – Won Top Team.

It is one of the most successful diving clubs in the country and has provided at least one Olympian at every games for nearly three decades.

But with no other suitable diving facilities in the city, they fear for the future.

Tom Owens, head coach and director of the club, said pre Covid-19 around 400 people of all ages came through the doors each week to dive in some capacity.

He said: “It’s devastating news. The club over the past 141 days hasn’t been able to go into the venue. The divers, the parents, the coaches, the whole community have worked so hard to try to maintain some momentum to keep physical and mental wellbeing as well as we can and we deserved better news.

Sheffield Diving National Age Group Team at Ponds Forge in 2019 - Top Team

“The risk is if this happens for too long and we don’t find a suitable plan for Ponds Forge to reopen in the short term then it will be a generation of athletes who will lose their opportunity to chase their dreams and not just for diving but for every club level athlete who enters that facility and anyone who uses it for recreation. It’s a very big hole left in a lot of people’s lives.”

James Biggin, volunteer at the club, said his son has been training at the venue for six years and is on the England talent programme.

He said: “It’s terrible. The decision yesterday I’m sure brought a lot of tears and that is across the children who haven’t been at school for 140-odd days, haven’t been in training for 150 days as of today and have just been told their only option for training and doing the sport they have for however many years, 20 hours a week, has just been taken completely away from them.

“I told my little boy last night and he blinked the tears away and I know there have been other kids who were told last night who have been crying their eyes out and equally parents who didn’t want the responsibility of telling the kids so left it to the coaches.

“It’s an incredible sport that gives them life skills, resilience and discipline. Not being able to do it has had a physical impact but I think we as parents are more concerned about the mental impact and what it means to see every single child, sibling and friend able to do their own sport now – there isn’t a single other sport, we don’t think, that is prevented from being practised to new measures.

“I’m sure 24 hours after the decision was announced there are still some very heartbroken people who are either coaches, business owners or kids.”

Mr Owens said the club is hoping to work with SCT to viably reopen the site if only for elite athletes.

He added: “Our business is entirely dependent on renting space at Ponds Forge because it’s the only space that is suitable.

“I don’t know if we are looking at three months, six months, a year or more.

“The bottom line is there is nowhere else to go, there are no other diving facilities like this in Sheffield.”

Jane Nickerson, chief executive of Swim England, also expressed “extreme disappointment” at the decision to mothball Ponds Forge.

In a statement, she said: “It’s devastating for the swimming, diving and water polo clubs based there, for the staff who work there, for the generation of youngsters who would have learned how to swim there – and for the thousands who have enjoyed taking part in our national events and other major international competitions over the years.

“For our diving community, the situation looks frustratingly dire.

“Ponds Forge is one of a very small number of bespoke diving facilities in England and was home to our National Junior Diving Championships and we are now looking to re-home the Sheffield vibrant diving community as well as our water polo and swimming clubs.”

Sheffield City Trust declined to comment.