Olympics project legacy serving up ace success

editorial image

As the Olympic Games get under way in Brazil, one tennis club is looking back with pride on the legacy of the London Olympics four years ago.

In 2012, to coincide with the home Olympics, Ilkeston Tennis Club started an ambitious community project to bring outdoor tennis back to the town.

Having secured approval from Erewash Borough Council for a 21-year lease on four derelict outdoor tennis courts at Rutland Sports Park, it refurbished the area to add to the Council owned three-court indoor facility. The work included resurfacing, extending the courts, and replacing fencing, all made possible after much fundraising and a generous grant from the LTA.

The project was a big success and the club now offers affordable outdoor tennis facilities to both members and the general public as well as an extensive programme of coaching for local children and juniors.

Club cecretary Mark Hancock said: “It has basically brought outdoor tennis back to Ilkeston and allowed countless people to participate who otherwise probably wouldn’t have had the opportunity to.

“Our membership numbers have risen, proper children’s coaching programmes have flourished, and we have been able to get some adult coaching and even cardio-tennis (a fitness class on a tennis court) sessions off the ground.

“There is nothing better on a sunny Tuesday evening than seeing the courts full of people enjoying the wonderful facilities we gained in 2012.”

The 2012 development has also allowed the club to progress and its match teams have gone from strength to strength since the move to the new courts.

Club captain Jon Shapland said: “From struggling to field a men’s team and a mixed team, we now have second teams up and running in both of those sections.

“Quite a few beginners and people who haven’t played for many years (some since their schooldays) have joined and, most important of all, the courts are getting used. Whilst membership is currently at a record level, however, growth has been a lot slower than we would have liked.”

The club’s hopes for the future include establishing a ladies team and, in the long-term, it would like to add floodlights to the courts to enable play to take place in the evening all-year round.

Jon said: “It would also be good to bring the last two derelict courts here back up to playable standard, but to do that we must also grow the membership to keep the club sustainable.

“There is no doubt that we will get to where we want to be, as the only proper tennis club in a town the size of Ilkeston — it is almost inevitable.

“We try to cater for all abilities and levels of interest and, with four brilliant courts in a central location and available for unlimited use around-the-clock, it really is excellent value for money with a full adult membership working out at less than £2 per week. There are also generous discounts available for pensioners , students and juniors.”

The club, established in the 1930s, was formerly called Stanton Tennis Club and was originally the tennis section of the Stanton Ironworks Sports and Social Club.

It is now based at Rutland Sports Park on West End Drive, Ilkeston. Winter tennis is played at the indoor centre, while summer tennis (and all-year round outdoor play during daylight hours) takes place on the four outdoor courts.

It offers tennis for all ages and abilities as well as professional coaching. There are nearly 50 adult members as well as 40 youngsters in its coaching programme — and in the summer two men’s teams and two mixed teams play in the Derbyshire Area Tennis League.

Following successful summer2015 campaigns, both first teams were promoted to their respective third divisions in the league — in both cases the highest level the club has ever competed at.

It recently entered teams into the Nottinghamshire leagues for the first time and plans to start inter-club leagues for members.

Some of its junior members have been pushing to get into the adult teams, notably James Wheatley, who has provided cover for both the men’s and the mixed sections this year and, according to the club, “has done himself proud.”

The inclusive club was involved in the borough-wide Erewash Village Games disability sports day and also ran a six-week course for children with learning difficulties.

It supports a self-help group of parents whose children have learning difficulties and/or autism, has links to wheelchair tennis in Nottingham, and is a member of the Erewash Disability Sport Group.

Two of its junior members play wheelchair tennis and disability tennis co-ordinator Tony Buck, one of the club’s longest-standing members, is passionate about the provision of disability tennis and, using the indoor courts, is planning further disability tennis sessions this winter.

Junior group coaching sessions are run throughout the week for all ages and abilities, led by professional head coach James Middleton, who is qualified to LTA (Lawn Tennis Association) Senior Performance Coach level.

A former British Tour player who also represented Nottinghamshire at junior and senior levels — and captained teams for both Nottinghamshire and Derbyshire — he started his professional coaching career aged 18,

Middleton has also coached in Abu Dhabi, Dubai and the USA at all levels and worked with national level juniors in three countries, some of whom went on to play professional tennis.

Ilkeston has a large programme of junior coaching sessions and social play under the watchful eye of Middleton.

Mark Hancock said: “For the club to have long-term sustainability there has to be a commitment to bringing in youngsters and developing them so that they enjoy themselves and become our adult members of the future.

“Our coaches and programmes are recognised by the LTA and the children just love it. Tennis is a very technical sport and professional coaching helps to iron out bad habits as soon as possible — and the better people play, the more they tend to enjoy it.

Tony Buck added: “Tennis is particularly attractive to those with a disability as it is non-contact and only needs two participants to make it enjoyable — and at the same time can be as competitive as participants wish it to be.

“The club is determined to be accessible to all and that includes those with a disability. To this end we have been helped and encouraged by the Tennis Foundation, the charitable arm of the LTA.”

Junior coaching starts for three to five-year-olds with Tots Tennis, followed by mini-tennis at red level for five to eight-year-olds, orange level for eight and nine-year-olds, and green level for nine years and above.

There is junior improvers coaching for youngsters aged 11 and above, and junior intermediate coaching for 13-year-olds and above.

Middleton also provides coaching all-year round for adult beginners and improvers on Thursdays, 6pm-7pm.

Part of the redevelopment four years ago included an agreement for the club to provide public pay-and-play access and two of the courts can be booked on Tuesday, Thursday and Saturday mornings and Friday evenings.

For details on junior coaching email coaching@ilkestontennisclub.com

For details on adult membership, go to www.ilkestontennisclub.com