'Help us find a new home!' Devastated Honiton Gym Club members out on the streets after their training centre set to be sold for housing
PUBLISHED: 13:14 15 November 2018 | UPDATED: 09:38 28 November 2018
Tragedy has stuck for a Honiton community group of 35 years after it was made homeless - and it now faces a race against time to secure a new venue.
Honiton Gymnastics Club, which has hundreds of young members on its books and a waiting list of more than 400 people, has been thrown into turmoil after its landlord, Tesco, gave it notice to vacate the property.
The supermarket giant is selling the site to Taylor Wimpey.
In a letter seen by the Herald, board member James Reddy said: “We’re devastated to say that Tesco gave us just a few days’ notice so that they can sell ‘with vacant possession’ to the housing developer, and Taylor Wimpey have so far not given us the option to remain even for a few more months.
“The result is we have to officially vacate the premises and have all of our considerable belongings removed by no later than Monday.”
Mr Reddy said while the club acknowledged it would ‘not be in here forever’, it was led to believe by Taylor Wimpey it would be given a ‘significant’ period of notice when it bought the site.
Taylor Wimpey said it ‘fully sympathises’ with the club’s situation and is willing to work with them ‘where possible’.
A spokesman said: “We are negotiating with Tesco over the purchase of a site in Ottery Moor Lane, Honiton, which has planning permission for new private and affordable housing.
“Honiton Gymnastics Club was granted a temporary base at the site by Tesco on the understanding that the building would be demolished once the sale of the land was complete.
“We have given the club regular updates about the proposed purchase and recently met with board members and trustees to explain our position.”
Tesco added that the club was informed ‘many months ago’ that they would have to leave its premises, in Ottery Moor Lane, because the site was being developed for housing.
A spokesman added: “In December last year we gave notice to the club that we were terminating their tenancy, but as an act of goodwill we allowed the club to remain on the site rent-free on a ‘tenancy at will’ basis to give them an opportunity to secure alternative premises.
“However, under that arrangement the club were aware that they would be asked to leave the premises at short notice once the sale of the site was agreed.”
More than 500 youngsters in Honiton and surrounding parishes belong to Honiton Gymnastics Club, which has trained in its Ottery Moor Lane centre since 2016.
Members of the club are continuing to pack up the centre and loading equipment into shipping containers.
The situation has forced the club to cancel seven of its popular classes.
Mr Reddy said the group’s priority in the short to medium-term is keeping sessions running for its competition gymnasts.
The letter added: “Whatever happens, we will ensure that, over the next week, we have a solution that will provide a training venue for competition gymnasts.
“We’re shattered – but we are far from giving up and are looking to put a series of measures in place as soon as possible.
“We will be looking to secure the long-term future of the whole gymnastics club at an alternative venue.”
Honiton Gymnastics Club has grown from 44 members to more than 500 in recent years.
In September alone, 100 people signed onto its waiting list, which continues to swell in size.
Earlier this year, the club secured temporary planning permission to train in the entirety of its base, formerly Rainbow Superstore, after a section originally occupied by the club’s sub-landlord, the Amigos Carnival Club, left.
The permission ran until August next year.
Following the announcement of the club’s eviction, supporters of the club have united to fight for its cause.
Mr Reddy said more than 50 people have written to East Devon MP Hugo Swire’s office overnight.
Speaking to the Herald this morning, he added: “Everyone from directors of the club to parents have rallied round and there has been a huge effort from people.
“Anyone who knows of anywhere we can train this huge amount of gymnasts, anywhere we do not know about – please let us know.”
Ideally, the club needs a unit of around 18,000 square feet to house all of its equipment and accommodate the gymnasts.
One of the club’s coaches, Vikki Hammond, said her daughter Jess recently made it up to the top group.
Jess, who has been a member of the club for more than eight years, attends classes at the club four days a week.
Vikki said: “I love being a part of this amazing team and feel like they are my extended family.
“I am truly devastated by the recent news, as is Jess.
“I have written to my local MP in the hope they can use their influence to help the club speedily find suitable alternative premises and lobby to support the club’s efforts going forward.”
Fellow parent Joanna Kirk said her daughter is ‘absolutely devastated’.
She added: “I know that James, Helen, Pam, Mellissa and the rest of those who run the club will find somewhere for training to carry on but for my daughter and the other gymnasts who love going to training and adore being part of the club this is a big blow and a worrying time.
“At the age of ten, she doesn’t understand the bigger picture and just wants to be able to carry on training and doing what she loves, gymnastics.
“For such an amazing club to be treated like this is appalling.
“To clear out all equipment in four days is an almost impossible undertaking although I know that the club has such amazing support that we will get it done.
“The club does so much for so many and the time, effort and patience put in by all the coaches to give our kids such amazing opportunities just can’t be expressed in words.”