BROMSGROVE swimming club stalwart James Earnest Merchant has had his remarkable efforts recognised with a lifetime achievement award.

The club thanked the former chairman for his 48 years of dedication by handing out the first accolade of this kind.

It was a fitting way to acknowledge one of Bromsgrove’s leading figures over nearly five decades.

The 86-year-old has inspired countless generations of juniors to get into swimming.

After teaching himself how to swim, he raced for Bromsgrove as a senior.

He entered the masters at the age of 50 and won numerous medals, with his fastest event, the breaststroke.

During his time at the club he has had a number of committee roles and reached the height of chairman.

He later became a swimming teacher and completed his advanced teaching qualification.

Merchant has taught countless numbers of children to swim, including senior instructor Edd Mansell.

“I can still remember when he taught me to do butterfly, he is the best technical teacher I have ever had, the modern day Mr Chips,” said Mansell.

Born in August 1927, he attended Trescott Road Infant and Junior School then Tinkers Farm Senior School.

He left school when he was only 14 and his first job was at Austin Aero Works making Stirling Bomber Aircraft, his first wage was £1 which he gave his mother for his keep.

Aged 18 he joined the Army to do his National Service and was based in Whitby, Warwick and Catterick working in the Royal Corps of Signals, where he remained for three years.

Later he became a contract pipe fitter’s mate at Austin.

He went to college one day a week and reached the level of supervisor. He was there for 30 years.

At the age of 45 he became a clerk of works and building services at Redditch Development Corporation.

After 11 years there he was made redundant and went on to become a self-employed, before eventually retiring at the age of 68.

He met his wife Barbara Haywood at the Tower Ballroom in Birmingham aged just 21.

He has three children, Deborah, John and Helen and five grandchildren.

Among his hobbies, he enjoyed ballroom dancing and cycling.