In the early 1980’s, The City of Sheffield Diving Club was established at the Sheaf Valley Baths leisure centre; later knocked down and rebuilt into Sheffield’s aquatic pride and joy, Ponds Forge. Ponds Forge holds fond memories for members of the public and for world class athletes alike. Regional, National and International sporting competitions are held here in Sheffield, with capacity for over two-thousand spectators and facilities that are some of Britain’s best. Olympic and Paralympic trials for the London 2012 Olympics were held at Ponds Forge, with its diving sector (which hosts the deepest diving pit in Europe) being particularly relied upon. Following the success of the centre, Ponds Forge was chosen as the venue for the aquatic events of the World Student Games which was hosted in Sheffield in 1991. After twenty-nine years of growth, Ponds Forge is a marked feature of Sheffield City. However, 2020 has seen many unexpected turns, putting the future of Ponds Forge in devastating peril.
We spoke to Nikki Wilson, manager of the City of Sheffield Diving Club, to find out more about how Covid-19 has affected them.
Tell me about your involvement with Ponds Forge and your association with the City of Sheffield Diving Club
I am Nikki Smith, the Manager of the Sheffield Diving Springboard and Platform Programme. I have been visiting Ponds Forge Sports Centre for over 25 years, firstly as a young gymnast and diver aged 11. I competed for the City of Sheffield Diving Club up to Senior National level and coached part time for British Diving alongside gaining a 1st class Honours Degree in Sport Development and Coaching at SHU. I have worked with generations of Sheffield’s National and International medallists and have been a member of England and Great Britain Junior Coaching Teams. I am a qualified judge and was a Technical Official at the 2012 London Olympic Games.
Ponds Forge is a major venue for Sheffield, currently closed due to Covid-19. Being your club ‘home’, how has it affected you?
We are now travelling around other diving venues in South Yorkshire to be able to access water time and delivering a reduced dry diving and pool training programme for our divers. We have temporarily moved some of our dry training equipment to the English Institute of Sport, we visit Maltby diving pool twice a week and Leeds and Barnsley diving pools once a week to conduct pool sessions. We are very lucky to be able to do this but the cost to the club to hire all these facilities is crippling.
How long were you initially out of training? Did you keep in contact to support your students?
Our last day of training (at Ponds Forge) was the 18th of March. We haven’t been back in our home diving pool for almost 7 months now. Our coaches and divers worked incredibly hard during lockdown and as soon as our pool closed we moved to online home training. We recorded daily workouts, set weekly challenges and ran a ‘Try it Tuesday’ weekly to introduce people to new recipes, amongst other things. We delivered live workouts for members of the public and divers from around the country which were used by clubs across the UK. We received lots of messages from divers and diving clubs around the world thanking us for our online videos and workouts – as far as Australia, USA, Germany and Dubai! We also set up a Crowdfunding page and raised £5070 through our members walking, cycling and running the distance from Ponds Forge to the International Pool in Rome, where we would have finished our competition season in the summer. To help achieve the mileage one club coach completed a marathon and five did half marathons. We ended up almost doubling our original mileage target of 2199 miles and achieving 4195.35 miles in just over a week.
Can you elaborate on any diving events you have missed because of Covid-19 restrictions?
The diving competition season runs from March – August and has been cancelled across the country. We were due to attend an International competition in Rome this July and an outdoor warm weather training camp in August. Both were cancelled. To date we haven’t missed any events in the UK as they have been cancelled. Several diving clubs from around the country began back training in their pools as early as August and it has been difficult for our members to see their competitors back training when they haven’t been able to.
How has the effect of lockdown been for your club members? How many people are part of the City of Sheffield Diving Club?
Before lockdown hit in March Sheffield Diving had just short of 400 people visiting per week. We then have weekly schools, stunt performers, university students and adult drop in classes visiting us to dive. The competitive squad and learn to dive lesson programme has over 350 members; it has been difficult for our members to see their competition and competitors training when they couldn’t.
Ponds Forge has recently announced a re-opening date of October 26th. However, rumour suggests it may not stand financially. Is this a worry for you?
We hope to be back in Ponds Forge training by the beginning of November. Training will look quite different, with reduced numbers in the pool and divers arriving ‘beach ready’. We are very happy to be returning to our home pool but do worry that the financial support from the Council (£1.6 million) is only the amount it costs to open Ponds Forge until April 2021. Our worry is how the facility will remain open post April if events are not back to running at full capacity, with spectators. For this reason, we continue to lobby the government for a ‘leisure bail-out’ to support the sector.
What is the future of the club, do you have anything planned?
Sheffield Diving Club joined forces with the Sheffield Swimming and Water Polo Club to put together a ‘Save Ponds Forge’ campaign to Sheffield City Council. We were over the moon that the Council agreed to commit the funds in full to reopen Ponds Forge, for the clubs that train there and for the public. The cost of this is approximately £1.6 million. We have retained over 90% of our competitive squad members, who have been incredibly loyal and supportive throughout the past 7 months. We hope to be able to build our ‘Learn to Dive’ lesson scheme back up to full capacity too once we reopen.
Is there anything you would like to say on behalf of the club?
I am incredibly proud of Sheffield Diving Club, who have supported both the diving community and the public brilliantly through this difficult time. Overnight our diver’s worlds were turned upside down as many of our elite squads trained 6 days a week, sometimes twice a day and suddenly they lost both their training and ability to go to school. Many struggled, but our coaches work hard to keep them motivated and happy.
Lastly, what’s your personal highlight from your many years with the club?
Ponds Forge Sports Centre hosted the 2012 and 2016 Olympic Team Trials and the 2014 Commonwealth Games Trials. It was amazing to watch those exciting high level competitions and witness Sheffield divers qualify for Olympic Teams and the Commonwealth Games. I have witnessed many team members and friends make their dreams come true at Ponds Forge over the last 25 years.
While new restrictions may still push Ponds Forge’s opening back further, for now, Ponds Forge International Sports Centre will fill its pools and re-open on Monday 26th October. They plan to reopen facilities in phases and it will work through a new, frugal booking system. Their website explains it in more detail, but this could change as a result of the Government’s new Covid-19 approach, announced on Monday 12th October. Sheffield and most surrounding areas in South Yorkshire have been placed in the ‘High-Risk’ category and from Wednesday 14th October tighter restrictions will be in place.
It is important that, as a community, we take individual action and be more cautious in our day-to-day lives. Otherwise, our leisure, arts and hospitality sectors will be forced back into indefinite closure. More information regarding your local restrictions can be found at https://www.gov.uk/coronavirus.