10 years ago, twins Andrew and Michael Freeman were inviting their new friend, Fay Mitchell, round to play on the trampoline in their garden after school. Today the trio are managing directors of the nationally renowned Kingston Trampoline Academy and have big ambitions for the future.
I met Fay, 22, at the company’s modest office, tucked away in the recesses of Hersham Business Park, Surrey. The office is only just large enough to fit the large desk that the three of them sit round. Calendars and endless lists and registers populate the walls and the window looks out onto a rather grim-looking office block.
“This place suits us just fine,” Fay told me. “We moved here in March, before that Michael was trying to run the business from his parents’ house and it was driving him mad. It’s nice to have somewhere quiet where we can go and just dedicate ourselves to academy work without worrying about upsetting Andrew and Michael’s parents or their dog eating our paperwork.”
“The day we moved in we could hear people talking about us in a neighbouring office, they were remarking about how gutsy us kids were, getting a little office to play in. They thought our parents had bought it for us!”
Despite what the neighbours may have thought, the young directors have hardly had any time for play. Since taking over, they have invested £30,000 in four new Olympic standard trampolines; opened a new site at a local junior school and commissioned a new logo and website, complete with a parent portal that lets members and their parents keep up with lesson timetables and allows them to make payments, cancellations and alterations, all online.
“Of course there’s also an email address and dedicated phone number that members and their parents can call if they have any problems,” Fay added. “The phone number comes straight through to a BlackBerry that I carry with me 24/7.”
Fay is training to become a barrister and is currently studying for a Graduate Diploma in Law at the Guildford College of Law, on several occasions she has had to leave lectures and workshops to answer the academy BlackBerry.
“It’s quite a commitment, being on call all the time. I’ve had a mother calling me up at 10 o’ clock on a Saturday night to discuss her daughter’s progress. It’s quite extraordinary but you’ve got to offer that level of service when you’re just starting out to build a good reputation, it’s absolutely vital.”
Fay is not the only one of the three to be juggling KTA work with other commitments. As I talk to her, Michael is training for the British championships this November. A good score there will see him qualify for the world championships and a shot at a place in the British Olympic trampolining team at London 2012.
Andrew retired through injury at the beginning of last year and works full time as Assistant Sport Development Officer at Surrey County Council. “We devote all our our spare time to getting this company off the ground, I’m deferring my place at Bar School for a year to concentrate fully on this vital first year”, Fay said.
When I ask her if she feels she has to choose between a future as a barrister and a future with the academy, Fay shakes her head emphatically. “Not at all. Every good company should have an in-house lawyer and I’ll be just that for KTA.
I took care of the legal requirements and paperwork for us to become a limited company in January and I’ve just drawn up contract for service agreements for the 19 coaches we currently have on our books.”
“I’m in an incredibly lucky position, I get to work in a profession that I love, at a company I love with two people that I love, they’re like brothers to me,” Fay said, referring to the Freemans.
“We may bicker like siblings at times but, to be honest, that’s so much better than the office politics that I’ve experienced before where there’s bitter resentment and power struggles that just lead to poor decisions and no drive forward. If we disagree, we argue about it in the open and problems are resolved so much quicker because we’re open with each other. It’s the advantage of working with people you’re so close to.”
Andrew and Michael, 21, and Fay, 22, took over the running of KTA in January this year. The club had formerly been operating as a charity for five years under the guidance of Head Coach, Sarah Silvester, who saw the potential it had to be a good business but didn’t have the time to devote to it herself.
Silvester turned to Andrew and Michael, the golden boys of the club and former two-time synchronised world champions, to take on the task of helping KTA realise its potential. The twins drafted in their friend, trampoline coach and law student, Fay, for her management ability, legal knowledge and people skills.
KTA was incorporated as a limited company in January with Andrew, Michael, Fay and Sarah as directors but with Sarah only playing a guiding role.
Silvester’s legacy in charge is something that Fay and the twins are grateful for. KTA won the London Competition League in 2010 and is considered the top trampoline club in the London area. Out of 388 members, KTA boasts 54 Elites, the term that the club uses for its national and international level gymnasts who travel and compete worldwide for the club and Great Britain.
Fay puts this down to the hard work that Sarah Silvester put in over the years. “I’m so glad she agreed to become a director with us. Sarah’s reputation as a coach is held in such high regard, she’s a major pull for gymnasts and is an amazing talent scout and Head Coach, we’d be lost without her.”
A sizeable waiting list is another legacy of Silvester’s KTA and it has only become longer since the trio took over. “That’s why expansion was the main priority for us,” Fay explained. “Cleves made sense because its a top school and has a brand new sports hall, a lot of a members are from the area (Weybridge) so it was perfect.”
“We’re hoping to completely clear the waiting list in the coming months with a massive restructuring of the timetable that we’re already working on. A long waiting list is certainly a problem but it’s definitely a good problem to have, especially in the current climate.”
When I ask where she hopes the club will be in one year’s time, Fay reiterates that they want to slash the waiting list and doesn’t rule out further expansion to another site. “That’s priority number one, we’d also love to turn a profit, it’s so hard to do that in a company’s first year but we’re on course to do just that which is really exciting. Also to win the London Competition League again would be amazing, we’re dedicated to maintaining the prestige of KTA that Sarah built up over the years.”
When I ask where Fay sees the club in 10 years, she blows her fringe off her face and into the air and thinks for a while. “To just be able to continue working with my best friends would be a dream come true. But if we can still be attracting world class gymnasts and competing internationally I’d be over the moon.”
She pauses for a bit and looks out of the window. “And to be the biggest club in Britain would be pretty cool too.”