A GYMNASTICS club which upgraded from an old warehouse to a bespoke new facility is now winning ribbons at the highest level.

Wantage Gymnastics Centre moved from its bunker in East Challow to a custom-designed new training arena in Stanford in the Vale in January.

The new place is nearly twice the size and has new equipment but the most important difference is that the ceiling is more than double the height, meaning the girls can finally practice routines on the beams and vaults properly without worrying about hitting their heads.

The upgrade is already paying off: at the end of March the girls competed at the regional championships in Southampton and two of them won places at the national finals.

Russell Smith, who took the club over four years ago after abandoning a job as a mortgage designer, said: "It's made such a difference.

"We’ve only been in our new facility a few of months, but they are able to compete at the highest level.

"To have girls qualify for the national finals is an unbelievable achievement."

He added: "We also have a much nicer area for parents – before it was just a stud wall that I had built, now they have an upstairs viewing gallery."

Lorena De Souza and Poppy Smithson, both ten, will now compete at the nationals in Stoke on Trent next month.

But this success has only come after a long struggle.

When Mr Smith took on the struggling club in 2014, the girls were training for just a few hours each week at Wantage Leisure Centre.

Mr Smith, who lives in Newbury, had been introduced to gymnastics by his friend Jade Sheppard.

After starting out as a volunteer, within six months he had taken on the mantle of head coach.

Realising the demand, he found the club new home in a unit at W&G Industrial Estate in East Challow.

After the membership rocketed to 350, he found the new building at White Horse Business Park and applied for planning permission.

The 35-year-old even spent his Christmas Day shifting gym equipment in order to be ready for the grand opening in January.

With the extra space membership has now risen to 420.

He still has a waiting list of 240, and is already considering whether the building could be expanded – but that will have to wait at least a few years.

In the meantime the club will use its annual championships next month to raise funds for a new foam pit, to allow the girls to practice even more routines.

See facebook.com/WantageGymnasts