GYMNASTS are celebrating the award of a substantial lottery grant which will help build a new £1.6m North-East sports centre.

Sport England's Lottery fund has awarded Sedgefield Borough Council £1,325,000 towards the new gym at Spennymoor Leisure Centre.

The new centre will build on the success of the South Durham Gym Club, which has already produced a string of international performers and medal winners.

It will concentrate on artistic disciplines and complement other centres in Deerness Valley, near Durham, and Benfield in Newcastle.

Sport England expect the centre to have a huge impact on gymnastics and open up the sport to more youngsters, especially through links with Sedgefield Community College and children's agency SureStart.

Judith Rasmussen, Sport England's regional director, said: "The North-East has always been a hotbed for gymnastics. However, we have never had the appropriate facilities to develop the sport to its full extent.

"This will be the third specialist facility in the region. It will be as much about recreational gymnastics as developing future champions. Coaches from the club already run a development programme in primary schools and this will help them to build on that."

Phil Ball, the council's director of leisure services, said: "We're delighted with the announcement.

"This is the culmination of work that has been ongoing since 2001 to realise this development for the South Durham Gymnastics Club at Spennymoor Leisure Centre.

"I am certain that the gymnasts can build on their already great success and go on to even bigger and better things."

The club attracts the cream of young gymnasts from across County Durham and Darlington.

It has already produced an Olympic standard gymnast in 18-year-old Rachel Collinson, who only missed out on a place at Athens because of knee injury.

And 14-year-old Amy Fossheim was a member of the Great Britain junior team which finished fourth at the recent European championships in Amsterdam.

Head coach Rachael Wright, who established the club from scratch with Nicola Preston, said: "It's going to be fantastic, great for the girls in the club who train at the highest level.

"We compete against the best but we've got limited facilities, so this is going to be ideal for them."