AVRIL SPRIGGS, who jointly founded South Essex Gymnastics Club, has been appointed MBE in the Queen’s New Year Honours list.
The 76-year-old from Basildon admitted it had come as a “huge surprise” when she learned she had been given the honour.
She set up the club alongside a fellow primary school teacher David Eagling in 1969 and today it boasts hundreds of members and the county’s top gymnast – Max Whitlock.
Mrs Spriggs, who was teaching at Lee Chapel Primary School at the time, and Eagling, who was at Blue House Primary School, initially started teaching young girls their national grades at an after-school club.
It blossomed and a year later they moved it to the old Laindon High Road School and called it the Basildon Gym Club and opened a section for boys.
In the early 1980s the club was relocated again to St Anselm School (now De La Salle School) in Basildon and then in 1993 it moved into a new £300,000 facility off Cranes Farm Road.
That led to an expansion which saw boys from the Castle Point Club join along with gymnasts from the Magna Carta Club, and it was renamed the South Essex Gymnastics Club.
It continued to thrive under stewardship of club stalwart Rod Smith and produced international calibre gymnasts including double Olympian Annika Reeder.
Mrs Spriggs recalls the rich history of the club fondly and was asked by the club’s current head coach, Scott Hann, to give a speech when it made the move to the state-of-the-art gym at the Basildon Sporting Village in 2011.
Today it is home to a number of Great Britain stars including Whitlock, a London 2012 Olympic double bronze medalist and the reigning British champion, and also caters for gymnasts of all ages and capabilities, with strong links with the local community.
Mrs Spriggs said: “It’s a great honour to receive the MBE and it came as a huge surprise to me.
“Who would have thought back in 1969 that an idea which came about as a seed in the minds of two local teachers could bring us this far? To me it’s almost unbelievable.
“It’s great to see the club thriving and I wish all the gymnasts, coaches, volunteers, trustees, welfare officers, support staff, parents and everyone connected with the club the very best for the future.”