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Medway's oldest swimming club launches Crowdfunder campaign following Covid impact


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A 134-year-old Towns' institution is raising money to combat the impact of the pandemic.

The Black Lion Swimming Club, which is based at the Medway Park Sports Centre, Gillingham, hasn't been able to properly open since last March.

The Black Lion Swimming Club, dated around 1970. Picture: Black Lion Swimming Club
The Black Lion Swimming Club, dated around 1970. Picture: Black Lion Swimming Club

It was first established in 1887 as the Gillingham Invicta Swimming Club and trained at the Strand off of Pier Road.

In 1891 it hosted its first championships and has continued to hold multiple galas each year.

Events included the '100 yards in clothes discipline' – which isn't available to racers in today's competitions.

In addition to medals, prizes in the late 19th century included a folding chair, a penknife, suit shirts and a box of cigars.

Around 40 years ago, it moved its principal training ground to Medway Park, which was called the Black Lion Sports Centre at the time, inspiring its new name.

The club presented the Mayor of Gillingham Cllr Barbara Kitchingham with a cheque for £100 in January 1979. Picture: Black Lion Swimming Club
The club presented the Mayor of Gillingham Cllr Barbara Kitchingham with a cheque for £100 in January 1979. Picture: Black Lion Swimming Club

But since the outbreak of the coronavirus, the club hasn't been able to host any of its iconic swimming tournaments – which are the main bulk of its income.

Swimmers went from training nearly 11 hours a week to just one when the club reopened in July. It closed again in November following the second lockdown.

It now hopes to raise £10,000 to go towards pool rent, support for club members and vital equipment in the build up to its planned reopening on April 12.

Club secretary Lorraine Clarke said: "We train at Medway Park, Strood Leisure Centre and the Rochester Maths School, but unfortunately this is closed until at least June for maintenance.

"The fundraising is very important as we have had a year without any income other than squad fees, but these were set at a nominal fee of £10 in April.

A newspaper cut out from the mid-1970s. Picture: Black Lion Swimming Club
A newspaper cut out from the mid-1970s. Picture: Black Lion Swimming Club

"We've had to rely on the generosity of some of our members who continued to pay full fees throughout the pandemic.

"We are very grateful for those that did this and have continued to do so during the current lockdown.

"The pandemic has hit some of our members financially and some of the money raised will go to our hardship fund, because we would love to see all of our swimmers back in the pool."

Not only is the club the longest-running swimming association in Medway, it also provides an important outlet for members' mental wellbeing.

"Swimming is very important to our members," said Lorraine.

A squad picture thought to have been taken in the 1980s. Picture: Black Lion Swimming Club
A squad picture thought to have been taken in the 1980s. Picture: Black Lion Swimming Club
Members celebrating an awards ceremony. Picture: Black Lion Swimming Club
Members celebrating an awards ceremony. Picture: Black Lion Swimming Club

"Our squad swimmers have to have a real passion for swimming – especially our top two squads who, prior to lockdown, were swimming around 11 hours a week.

"They have to be dedicated as it really is a daily routine for them; school, homework dinner and then training, before lockdown our top squad only had Saturdays off."

Club bosses launched a Crowdfunder page to help see the organisation through till June when it hopes all restrictions are lifted and its 250 members can return to their usual training regimes.

It will resume training on reduced hours from April 12, based on specific leisure centres' operating times.

Lorraine added: "We have been overwhelmed with local businesses too, for their generosity in donating rewards to sell or raffle on our Crowdfunder.

The club's winning gala. Picture: Black Lion Swimming Club
The club's winning gala. Picture: Black Lion Swimming Club

"Many of which have had some sort of connection with the club over the years."

If you are interested in joining the club, visit its website. To make a donation, visit its Crowdfunder page.

Read more: All the latest news from Medway

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