Sonia Bee didn’t know anything about fishing when she took over Sammies Pool in Fenton.
But she was determined to run the pool for youngsters, and 20 years on the facility is still going strong.
In fact, thanks to Sonia and the Staffordshire Angling Regeneration Team, between 1,500 and 2,000 people, mainly youngsters, fish there every year.
They work with schools, people with special needs or disabilities and young offenders.
Sonia, aged 75, decided to act back in 1999 when she heard the club could close or at least not be available for children.
So, she approached the council…
“I went to the meeting and they asked me to go outside. When I came back in they said ’you’ve got the pool!’
“I knew nothing at all about fishing. All I knew was in the water there are fish.
“I thought what can we do?
“So, we cleaned up the pool, there were bikes and everything in there.
“I went looking at other pools. I saw there was a gap, there was fishing for children or adults, but not for people with disabilities.”
So, the team cleaned up the pool and invited special schools to come and have a look.
Their work at the facility on Fenpark Road has attracted grants from groups including the city council and the office of the Police and Crime Commissioner.
Her routine is an early start with paperwork, preparing lunches for her coaches, then getting to the pool to greet youngsters for the fishing.
Sonia is the organiser of a group of 15 to 20 coaches, including her husband John, a Level Two coach. Like her, they are all volunteers doing their bit for the community.
Some have been with her since the start and coaches who have passed away since then are commemorated with flower boxes around the pool.
Sonia added: “Without the lads we couldn’t do it, the only thing they get out of it is their lunch. All are qualified and I feel so lucky I have a team that has supported what I wanted to do. It is a real family group, we all look after each other.”
She says the role is hugely satisfying.
She said: “What is nice is the difference it makes to the children.
“One young man came down and was throwing stones in the water.
“I asked him what he was doing and he said ‘I don’t know’.
“I asked him if he could fish, we gave him a whip, and, when he caught his first fish I think all of Fenton heard!
“His mum and dad then came down and asked if they could fish with him. He’d always been in trouble with the police, but now was as good as gold. He still fishes now.”
“These are the things that are important.
“The kids know they are safe and their parents know they are safe.
“You have to build a reputation up, so that schools and organisations trust you.
“Everyone has all the qualifications they need. No-one works with the children at the pool unless they have been checked.”
The group also raises around £1,000 every year for charities and good causes.
Sonia has been nominated in the Sport in the Community category, in the Sentinel/City-of-Stoke-on-Trent Sports Personality of the Year Awards, by Alan Murray who is a coach at the club.
He said: “I joined two years ago which was when I learned about everything she does for the community. For schools, for children with special needs and for young offenders.
“So, we do quite a lot in the way of coaching and getting children into the sport.
“She is the main one behind it. She supplies us with meals, does the paperwork. She is a lovely lady with an absolutely brilliant personality.
“Once I saw the work she was doing for youngsters, I became part of the team.
“I get a lot of satisfaction from coaching, especially special needs kids. When they catch a fish, the smile on their faces is unbelievable.”