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Europa Centre, Vimy Way, off Maiden Lane, Crayford, Kent. DA1 4FA           Tel:01322 318888          email:

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In 1992 Local Magistrate Jenny Kent found an old industrial building and managed to persuade top gymnastics coaching pair Yvonne & Len Arnold to create a gymnastics facility for the youth of Bexley.

The old fashioned building (pictured to the right) that had seen much better days, was then given a new lease of life as a unique sporting venue. Jenny Kent now president of the club, badgered local businesses into donating building materials, equipment & hire tools.

Along with this, many people give their time to convert a disused building into a Facility that offered youngsters a chance to taste the real sporting experience in a Centre which had needed imaginative design to overcome areas that were inadequate in size, or were a strange shape, forcing each sport  to compromise.

There was also permanently set up areas for Gymnastics, Boxing, Weightlifting and Rehearsal Studios, plus a multi use area for Karate, Aikido, Judo, Dance and Pilates .

But despite these problems the dedicated staff guided many youngsters to outstanding achievements.

The centre attracted highly motivated people, with full time staff and volunteers who worked way beyond their hours.

Len & Yvonne Arnold who head the Club are Master Coaches of Great Britain. Yvonne was British Gymnastics Champion in 1972 and represented Team GB at the Munich Olympics the same year. Len is the current Woman’s Artistic Gymnastics England Team Manager and both of them have been involved with National Teams & Squads throughout their Career.

After a disastrous year spent at the Howbury Centre in 1999 the Club was forced back to the Fraser Road facility leaving the Club in a very poor financial situation, and so to ensure the long term future of the Club, the couple sold their house and lived on site. They did not want the youngsters to loose their facility and also wanted to show their appreciation to all those who had donated their time in developing the Centre. A tremendous amount of work was achieved in the centre but the most important thing was the long term future for this unique sporting opportunity for young people.

In the twenty years of the Europa Gymnastics Centre’s existence, a unique Sporting Experience was developed inside an old industrial building.

The dream began by regenerating a semi derelict, sad looking premises, left empty for the previous ten years and stripped of all its services i.e. Lighting, Heating, Doors etc.

With very little money, but a lot of enthusiasm from club members and friends, the massive task of creating a sporting facility started.

Europa History 1992 - 2008

The Clubs facility fronted a trading estate, and was owned by a company called Burfords who in 1992 offered a  999 year lease at a cost of £190,000.

The club applied to the Foundation for Sport and the Arts for a grant totalling £500,000.

This included the cost of the lease, upgrading the building and buying new equipment.

But instead of just sitting and waiting to see if the grant was successful, the club continued a programme of redevelopment within the building, while raising money for equipment or acquiring apparatus free of charge. For instance the ring frame (pictured to the left) came from a local school and a semi-sprung floor area from a club in Manchester.

Both the local Rotary Club and The Lions Association were a great help in establishing our soft play area (pictured to the right) by donating money, so that we could buy a starter pack of foam shape equipment.

Early in 1994 the club suffered one of its darkest days. The whole of the trading estate was sold, and the new owners were not interested in a long term lease. It was also when the Foundation for the Sport and the Arts highest grant was limited to £100,000, which was due to the lottery funding coming on line.

The club was then granted £100,000, but was now not in a position to spend it, because we had no long term lease.

This forced the club into looking for new facilities.

After two promising developments collapsed due to planning problems, the club had to make a hurried move into what had been the Howbury School in Slade Green. Bexley Council used the site as Council offices and various other agencies including A Day Nursery, Special Needs Care Centre and a Pupil Referral Unit.

The plan was to use the £100,000 Grant from The Foundation as partnership funding for a Lottery application to extend the stand alone sports hall into a Gymnastic facility, plus upgrading 2 Hard Court Areas for 5-A-Side Football, Tennis and Netball and the Football Pitches. Once again the club found itself with only a short term lease and a disappointing letter from the Foundation informing the club that we had lost the grant of £100,000. After considerable lobbying of the Foundation, they finally agreed a grant of £25,000 towards gymnastics equipment which included a floor area and the landing mats.

The other problem facing the Europa Organisation was the loss of members, unfortunately many cars had been broken into and parents were expressing their concerns about the vandalism. Bexley Council, aware that the Europa Club was in danger of folding offered to release Europa from the Howbury Centre.

The Landlords of the original facility at Fraser Road, Warner Estates, offered Europa a life line to move back, however the building had been wrecked during the Club's time away.

Once again Europa's staff and a pool of talented volunteers set themselves the formidable task of redeveloping the old facility in 3 months, managing to move back just one week after the target date.

The Europa organisation had expanded into every usable area within the facility. The open minded and friendly atmosphere of the building had attracted a wide range of users who interconnected like a vast jigsaw all working towards participation and excellence.

Despite imaginative design of an old industrial building there are many short comings facing the club and the performers that used the facility.

1. Long Term Security

           The building fronts a trading estate and the owner’s are unwilling to give a long term lease. This prevents the club from applying for any lottery or other capital funding. This had put the club under tremendous financial pressure in the development of the building. Still the club had to continue to develop and improve the facilities hoping that the landlords will extend the lease.

2. Costs

           The high cost of renting the property plus the service charge adds to the financial burden already incurred by trying to maintain an old building where services are far from economical. The rent which was £2,500 in 2000 increased to £6300 per month by 2012.

3. Problems with Gymnastics Facility

        1. An example of some of the problems facing the coaches and gymnasts are, the width of the gym was only 14m this took the sprung floor area wall to wall and forced the gymnasts, who in a competition would only be running up to the vault on a 2cm foam back carpet, to run across a highly spring floor which changes the speed of their run plus the height relationship between the floor and the top of the vault.


          2. The lack of height in some of the areas causes problems, for instance in the gymnastics hall where the A-Frames were only 3.7m high, older taller gymnasts are restricted in their performance of vaulting and tumbling in case contact is made with the low A-Frames.

          3. The Gymnastics floor area fits in wall to wall preventing the club from using the facility as a serious competition venue. This was a massive loss of revenue and a disappointment as the Europa team have an excellent track record of organising and running major events but unfortunately always at other facilities.

After six months of voluntary work from club members and friends, plus help from local businesses who either donated materials or building equipment, the club moved to the Fraser Road site.

The Club was woefully short of gymnastics apparatus, no full sized floor area, not enough mats, no ring frame and many other pieces to make up the ideal gymnastics training facility were missing, but the club was open and youngsters were enjoying the sport of Gymnastics.

How it started…

On returning to the Fraser Road site Europa began creating a unique sporting facility away from the main sport of Gymnastics. Opportunities were given to other sports and activities to get started and sustain a regular membership.

The Scheme was quite easy, when an organised and registered group wished to start a sport or activity, the Europa Centre offered a months free rental and each subsequent month the rent went up by £2.50 until it reached the top rate of £15.00 per hour.

But in many cases to give sporting clubs longevity, little or no rent was paid within the first 3 months. This gave the clubs a chance to increase their membership without having to suffer an immediate financial burden.

The long term gain for this policy was a very imaginative development, for a building that was not really designed for any sporting activities.