02 April 2020
In response to the recent toilet roll challenge, Lesley Cowie, a lady significant in the formation of West Suffolk Swimming Club, got in touch. Lesley was appointed the first Swimming Development Officer for St Edmundsbury and has very kindly shared the first of her memories of the time when swimming within the borough dramatically changed:
Haverhill Hurricanes + Bury Beavers = West Suffolk Swim Club
The first steps to the forming of West Suffolk Swim Club began in 1997 when Allan Lee, Haverhill Hurricane Head Coach, approached Steve Palfreyman - St Edmundsbury Borough Council Head of Leisure Services, to discuss how the club and council could work together to ensure that the level of Hurricanes success could be maintained and improved in the future. Haverhill Amateur Swimming Club had grown over the years with a strong team of parents working together and to move on, it was felt that working with the council and Bury Beavers could be beneficial to all. Merging the clubs could mean a large group of enthusiastic volunteers pulling together to share the workload, more pool time and the future of competitive swimming could be sustained with the appointment of a Club Coach. The financing of the Coach would be met by the Council partly through the Learn to Swim programme but Haverhill Club would have to give up their teaching section and the organisation of the ASA education courses, which at the time brought in a substantial amount of revenue. Steve Palfreyman, the clubs and Lesley Hill (ASA Development Officer), worked together on a plan – with the first step being the appointment of a Swimming Development Officer. Interviews were held early 1998. Before I applied, I had been responsible for both the club and Haverhill Leisure Centre Learn to Swim programme, alongside tutoring many ASA teachers courses in the area, so hoped that my local knowledge and experience would count. I was very pleased when Neil Anthony, Assistant Director of Leisure Services, phoned to offer me the job and then the hard work began.
That first year there were lots of meetings and heated discussions with key targets set out. What was agreed as most important was that everyone in St Edmundsbury would be given the opportunity to achieve their potential in Swimming at every level. This meant a coordinated swim scheme across the pools, clear routes for swimmers on to the next stages plus more and better training times for the clubs. As expected there were many objections from learn to swim families as well as club members but over the months with Don and Pat Neate and the club officers spreading the word to the membership on the benefits, West Suffolk Swimming Club was registered with the ASA (Amateur Swimming Association).
Over the next year, new timetables at both pools were introduced – not without many objections and The West Suffolk Swim Scheme was established at Haverhill and Bury St Edmunds Leisure Centres. Numbers increased across both swim schemes and exit routes to the Swimming Club and Life Saving Club were put in place. St Edmundsbury Borough Council advertised for a Head Coach for the Club, but appointing a coach to the position did prove more challenging than expected.
Over the next 8 years, the club saw 5 different Head Coaches come and go, with Ian Cotton (still active today as Chairman within the Suffolk County Executive team) the first of them. Ian was followed up by Mick Wakely who changed the squad structure around and put his own stamp on the club, with a brief stint in the role from Steve Purchase that followed. Tim Westlake then took on the role (formerly a coach to Mel Marshall in her youth – Adam Peaty’s current coach), with current coaching team member Phil Ward also taking the reins.
Thank you to Lesley for her words and we hope that this gives members an idea of the formation of West Suffolk Swimming Club.