A SWIMMING coach has been honoured with an award after dedicating three decades to helping youngsters make a splash in the pool.

Barbara Wilkinson set up a swimming club alongside her husband, John, in 1988, which led her on to coaching British Championship winners and tutoring Swim England talent camps over the years.

The former primary school secretary retired from the day job in 2008 after 13 years in the role at Danby Church of England Primary School.

However, the talented coach, 68, is busier than ever since leaving as she continues to volunteer five nights and three mornings a week with the Loftus Dolphins – even continuing to lead 6.30am sessions twice a week.

The club, which meets in the Loftus Leisure Centre, has 60 swimmers aged six to 18 and has grown from humble beginnings to become one of the most successful swimming outfits in the region under Mrs Wilkinson's guidance.

She has now been rewarded for her continued efforts with a Teesside Hero award from charitable movement Teesside Philanthropic Foundation.

One of the charity’s patrons, Nigel Willis of Redcar-based First Choice Labels, handed over the award in a surprise presentation at Loftus Leisure Centre after she was nominated by 18-year-old swimmer, Sean Armstrong.

Originally a gymnastics coach before deciding to join her husband poolside, the 68-year-old received a cheque for £1,000 which she will use to buy new equipment for the club.

Mrs Wilkinson said: “It’s absolutely amazing to be recognised, and to be put forward for an award by one of our young swimmers who has been with us since he was about nine means a lot.

“The money comes in very handy as well, because we are a voluntary club and rely on the fees we get from parents."

She added: "When you retire from your paid job you have more time on your hands, and I just absolutely love coaching – if I wasn’t doing it I would only have to do more housework.

“It just gives you so much satisfaction seeing a young swimmer who has joined you when they are seven or eight improving and competing in national championships 10 years later.

“I do get really tired sometimes when we have a long three-hour session, but we have a good team at the club and I enjoy it too much to retire and I’m sure we could get a wheelchair by the pool anyway.”

Twelve members of the club will be competing in Scotland in December, while Loftus swimmers are on various England and regional talent programmes.