Pictured: The Benalla Aquatic Centre has hosted young and old for 20 years.
In the summer of 1997, the Benalla Aquatic Centre opened its doors for the very first time – which 20 years on remains one of the community's key recreational hubs.
Originally the Delatite Aquatic Centre before being renamed in 2002 when the Benalla Rural City was established, YMCA Victoria has managed the facility for 17 of those years – establishing important community programs and initiatives in strong partnership with Council.
Five staff members have been with the centre since, or very close to, its launch. They include Centre Manager Elise Wood, Operations Manager Michael Smith, Elspeth Maconachie, Pauline McGeorge and Suzanne Wright.
“We’ve built a very strong feeling of community over the years and that has created strength in the face of adversity like floods or community tragedy,” said Elise.
“We service many groups including special needs participants and school groups. We know their names and really try to treat them all as friends – that is as important as anything to these groups.”
“We are a family and we go through our highs and lows together.”
Teaching a generation of people to swim is among Elise’s highlights, as well providing assistance to those less fortunate in the community through access initiatives.
“We partner with the shire through Council grants and raise funds to engage as many people across the community as possible. Just this year we have raised over $9,000 to help people access the centre through YMCA Open Doors.”
After a brief hiatus from managing the facility for three years, since 2006 YMCA Victoria has seen membership grow by 90 per cent and a whopping 125 per cent growth in swimming lessons members.
Operations Manager, Michael Smith, said staff development and progression was a key to the centre’s success.
“We’re committed to being local employer in Benalla, with many young people gaining their first start here - learning important life skills through mentorship,” he said.
“They go on to do amazing things. We’ve seen them become nurses, police, doctors, lawyers, almost everything you can think of.”
Throughout the two decades Benalla Aquatic Centre has helped shape many high level sporting successes, including swimming legend Alva Wyatt, Olympic backstroker ‘Bindy’ Hocking, Commonwealth Games shooter James Corbett, and current AFL stars Tom Rockliff and Caleb Marchbank.
Intermediate youth amateur boxing champion Tom Newton is a more recent success story and is also employed at the centre as a pool lifeguard.
“We have worked alongside Council to deliver the programs and services needed across the local community and, while the future is exciting, it is wonderful to look back and celebrate the achievements of our wonderful community centre,” said Elise.