Daily Mail Article: Going to Great Lengths

Jonathan Sharples

We were in the Daily Mail today (21st July). The article below was featured and it was written by Mark Woods. 

As an aquatic addict, Jonathan Sharples will be soaking up every second of the Tokyo Olympics and rooting for the UK’s swimming stars to make the ultimate splash.

But he’ll hope too that, in the weeks and months ahead, his phone will constantly ring and doors will be knocked repeatedly at Musselburgh Marlins Swimming Club with kids inspired to become the next Duncan Scott or Kathleen Dawson.

Legacies aren’t just generated once every four years though. The hundred or so swimmers – and their families – that come through the doors on a regular basis have been won over and nurtured with constant care and attention. This is a patch that stretches all the way from Edinburgh’s leafy suburbs into the old mining communities of East Lothian. Opportunities, in the latter, can too often be drowned at birth.

Sharples, one among a merry band of enthusiasts who keep the wheels turning, acknowledges he has had to kick harder to make sure no one is left treading water.

‘I would definitely say that it’s harder to get good quality swimming lessons if you are from an area of deprivation,’ he argues. ‘We don’t have a council-run programme where I am based in Prestonpans. But I teach in a swim school where we take them on.

‘Swimming’s not the cheapest sport in the world. And it’s hard for kids to sustain it because it doesn’t take one or two weeks to learn to swim. It does take a good couple of years. But everyone should be able to swim.’

It’s not just a job. Not even merely a passion. He is among the treasured band of activists who plant the seeds of change but also make it come alive.

"Being involved in sport can feed across all areas of their mental health and family life"

By day, Sharples works for the Pennypit Community Development Trust, an outreach scheme who work scarcely been more necessary than during the past 16 months, including lunch clubs through the summer to help those in need fight so-called holiday hunger.

‘We work with families and the elderly’ he outlines. ‘So during Covid, there’s been so much needed on social isolation and the elderly, supporting those families who need it.

‘We’re also giving them some activities throughout the holidays as well. To not just give respite to the parents, but also let the kids have fun and have the same opportunities as what any other child would have.’

Handily, he can sneak swimming onto their radar. Every little helps. Sport, the conduit to transforming lives in small or large ways.

‘We are quite strong on making sure that sport is at the centre of what we do,’ confirms Sharples. ‘It is a holistic approach. If you help them with activities and stuff like that, it feeds across all areas of their mental health and family life generally.’

All this comes at a cost though. Pennypit has sought their benefactors, from the charitable spin-off of builders Taylor Wimpey to the Swimathon charity, currently headed by former Olympic champion Duncan Goodhew, that’s been distributing money to facilities affected by the long lockdowns.

When the pools were shut, Sharples reveals, the Marlins kept fishing for catches. Their head coach Danny Kirkham was designing a virtual training programme with challenges and activities on dry land. Their committee of volunteers was going the extra length to make sure past gains were not lost.

‘We had training and videos, books that they read about someone…just increasing how much we get out there,’ he explains. ‘Without being actually in the pool, it’s quite hard to do. That’s where Zoom sessions helped, just to keep them connected with us, but also with their peers.’

Hopefully, those days are behind them. But there is always someone to nudge along. Two months ago, Sharples was a paid-up member of the proud public of Prestonpans saluting the return home of Josh Taylor as he paraded his clutch of boxing world-title belts. A little bit of gold dust.

Through Tokyo and beyond, any leg-up on the legacy ladder will be warmly embraced.

‘I think if we had the next Duncan Scott, from the Pans or from anywhere in the area, then we would be really quite chuffed,’ adds Sharples. ‘What would make it even better is if they were born and bred in the community that we support.’