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Council urged to help fund Olympic hopefuls

PUBLISHED: 18:36 19 August 2009 | UPDATED: 17:04 25 August 2010

GYM bosses who have been struggling for more than a year to stay in business, despite pledges of help, are having no trouble producing

GYM bosses who have been struggling for more than a year to stay in business, despite pledges of help, are having no trouble producing potential Olympic stars.

Len and Yvonne Arnold, who both live in and run the Europa Gym in Fraser Road, Erith, thought they would have to sell the premises a year ago when the rent doubled.

Despite media coverage of their plight including the Times and visits by politicians, the couple are still "struggling along" and say they face annihilation when next year their annual rent is set to rise to £85,000.

The club is home to weightlifter Zoe Smith, 15, from Abbey Wood, who has already been chosen for Team GB in the London 2012 Olympic Games and has several young hopefuls in boxing and gymnastics from Bexley that could soon prove to be medal material.

Mr Arnold said: "The council hasn't helped yet.

"We are struggling away. We just feel that not much has been done to help us out. "We have a long-term lease. The annual rent jumped from £30,000 to £55,000 last summer and next August it is set to rise to £85,000. We are going to start struggling big time. It is just frustrating because things move so slowly."

Despite widespread media coverage last summer the only people that coughed up any money were pensioners."

Cheques totalling approximately £150 came from pensioners across the capital. Mr Arnold said: "If you send money back they will be upset, so we made them honorary members of the club. Whenever we have displays or events we invite them along.

"It's unbelievable. There is a synergy between older people and the younger generation. I was a 1960s child and could play cricket and football on the streets not like kids nowadays. When they can't do that they gravitate towards other things.

"Sports centres are more for adults. Places like Europa attracts younger people."

Bexley council pledged to help the couple find another location last July but a new venue has yet to be secured.

A spokesperson for the council said: "The club's accommodation issue is not easily resolvable, as, in its current format, the club requires a very large building.

"A planning application, submitted at the end of April by Barratt Homes for a new residential development at Samas Roneo site in Crayford, includes provision of a new facility for the Europa Gym. Council officers are working closely with the Gym Club to assess the potential of the proposal, including the ability of the scheme to attract the level of external funding required and its design implications. The application proposes a financial contribution as well as gifting of land towards the cost of the relocation of Europa. Once work is finalised it will be necessary to determine how the remaining funding gap will be met."

London Assembly member for Bromley and Bexley and Ambassador for Young People James Cleverly has been down to the gym several times but said the Mayor's office would be unable to fund the club. He said: "I have spoken to the Mayor about this and his sports advisor Kate Hoey, who is also a former sports minister. At this stage plans are still in progress but it would be inappropriate for me to go into any details.

"The Mayor's Office does not have any money. We are quite limited in what we can do to help. We can get help if we can keep it in the public eye.

"It should be able to attract private or lottery funding."

marina.soteriou@archant.co.uk

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