The story of a couple who have ploughed much of their personal savings into an angling and activity centre for the younger members of their local community.
As an angler, I think it’s impossible for anyone to catch a fish with a rod and line and not smile.
Whether it’s an unmistakable, ear-to-ear grin or an inward glow of private self-satisfaction, it has always felt to me that there simply MUST be a physical or emotional ray of sunshine attached to every moment of capture.
Now imagine that feeling for a youngster who has yet to experience the thrill and psychological release that fishing can provide. Someone who has, until that first experience of a float dipping, a quiver tip quivering and an invisible resistance taking hold, has never had the opportunity, or has simply never found the right place, to go fishing.
That in essence is what the Catch a Smile programme in Quedgeley near Gloucester has been providing since owners Danny and Caroline Keene dug out the ponds themselves to mark the first stage of their Community Interest Company’s development.
“Five years ago, it was just an old farm field but knew I wanted to create Catch a Smile,” says Danny. “We were both still working then so we’d finish work and be out there until dark. I’d be on the digger, Caroline would be on the dumper and we managed to open and get people fishing inside six months. It wasn’t as nice as it is now, but it’s matured over these first few years and now has established aquatic plant life and there are other attractions too.”
Groups from nearby schools, scout troops, special needs schools and local families simply looking for a different day out, are all regular visitors. The concept for Catch a Smile has been generated from the idea that those who attend have other things they can do than fish.
If boredom sets in, there are animals to see and a dinosaur park and Crazy Football Golf to navigate and when the time is right and energy has been expended, its back for another go at the fishing. So, overall, the rationale is simple: Catch a Smile at Elmore Fisheries has been specifically developed to serve its key groups. It knows what it is and importantly, it understands what it isn’t.
“We haven’t developed it for experienced anglers and if they call up, we tell them it really isn’t for them. It’s here for families and for children. What we’ve created is a facility at which they’re near enough guaranteed to catch fish but if they do get bored, there are the other things to do so they stay interested. After creating the fishing lakes, we felt it was important that we added other things on for the children,” says Danny.
Much of the facility has been created from personal funds and the dinosaur park on its own relieved Danny and Caroline of around £10,000. “As a CIC, we’re not out to make a profit and we don’t charge a lot,” says Danny. “What we make, we put back into it.”
A large part of Catch a Smile’s success can be attributed to support from the Environment Agency, Angling Trust and others, who were impressed by Danny and Caroline’s commitment from the outset. Since 2018, over 8000 fish (including roach, rudd, bream, tench and crucians) have been stocked by the Environment Agency, with fisheries management advice provided every step of the way by Fisheries Officer Laura Bullock.
In addition, Danny said: “we also bought about 100 bream with our own money from a company in Devon and when they brought them up and saw what we were doing, they started supporting us. In the last few years, they’ve donated fish with the promise of more to come!”
Assistance from Dave Evans at the Angling Trust was warmly welcomed, with his guidance on funding opportunities playing a part in successful bids the Angling Improvement Fund and Sport England Tackling Inequalities Fund. Dave also helped pass on tackle donations in the early days of the project.
“A lot of the equipment we have is donated but as we develop, we always need more. Much of what we already have has been repaired several times so we’re always on the lookout! We want to expand too but that will be determined by any donations we can generate.”
Danny and Caroline have already experienced the generosity of donors, who are as eager as they are to see the facility thrive and develop for the benefit of the local community.
“There was a guy who came up recently and asked if I was the owner and I wondered what was coming next! But he said he worked for a company in Cheltenham and wanted to provide a hoist to make the fishing even more accessible for those who need it.”
A small charge for the fishing also grants access to the other amenities and if children aren’t interested in angling, they can easily turn up just to enjoy the other attractions without ever needing to see a fishing rod, a maggot or a piece of sweetcorn.
If those who do wish to fish need assistance, it’s better to book in advance because provision will then be made to provide the necessary help and if required, tuition. As you’d expect, the venue is wheelchair accessible, equipment hire is available and bait can be supplied. There’s also a barbecue area and a café and with everything combined, it’s a facility that’s been fully adopted on a local level.
“When the organised groups come over, we work it so that everyone can get a taste of all the facilities. Caroline and I will split parties up into organised groups so that through the visit everyone will see and have a go at everything they want.
The locals know how hard Danny and Caroline work to provide for their community and their achievements are regularly the talk of the local pub.
“We’re just normal people,” says Danny. “I’m here until dark almost every night. Sometimes I might go home for something to eat and then comeback until the work is done. But I’m not complaining because I thoroughly enjoy it.”
For more information on Catch A Smile visit:
*Images reproduced by kind permission of Danny and Caroline Keene