A time without tennis but communities still served
• 6 MINUTE READ
The courts were closed, the clubs shut, the tournaments cancelled.
For tennis fans, the rhythms of this year’s sporting season were silenced by the ongoing Coronavirus crisis and a lockdown that has changed our lives in so many ways and presented so many new challenges to the way we live, work and exercise. Although tennis and other sports are gradually making a comeback, as summer moves into autumn, communities across the country continue to face disruption and uncertainty.
Lockdown had a profound effect on all of us, but for many more disadvantaged communities across the country, the challenges these restrictions created have impacted even more deeply. Many young people found themselves trapped in extremely challenging and chaotic environments. Limited access to the internet or a shortage of available devices made home-schooling and other constructive online engagement challenging if not impossible to access. Being trapped in overcrowded housing, with limited private space and reduced access to the normal support structures provided by school and other children’s services has created a ticking time bomb.
'Young people are suffering from stress and anxiety as a result of the crisis'
All of these challenges were laid bare in a report from StreetGames, based on conversations with hundreds of young people and the community organisations who support them. The report was clear that some young people found lockdown far harder than others, but all those spoken to found that the ‘absence of something to do’ was the hardest part. More heart breaking than the statistics were the stories, of young children terrified that their key worker parents could get sick or even die; of young people trapped in violent or abusive households; of the teenagers who have seen all the structure evaporate from their lives as schools closed and youth projects shut their doors. Young people in disadvantaged areas have struggled greatly and are in desperate need of support, and for too many people in Covid hotspots these restrictions and their ramifications remain in place.
StreetGames network of locally trusted community sports organisations have been at the forefront of the work to support communities through the challenges of lockdown. Clubs such as the North Paddington Youth Club - which provides informal education services to young people between the ages of 8-21 - had to adapt quickly to ensure vulnerable young people, who no longer had access to regular sports sessions, maintained contact with positive role models and had access to alternative ways to stay active, safe and well.
'Organisations like North Paddington Youth Club are the quiet frontline in the efforts to support vulnerable people through the crisis'
In more normal times, Ronnie Renney and his team at North Paddington Youth Club would be providing a safe space for local children at their community centre offering opportunities as diverse as climbing, art, table tennis and many other sporting activities. With doors closed due to lockdown, they altered their approach to provide vital outreach to support those young people through the new challenges.
The club recently won plaudits from Prince Harry and Meghan Markle for their role in delivering hot community meals to families across London in collaboration with the Hubb Community Kitchen, St Matthews Project and others. This collaboration, which also involved a Michelin star restaurant, resulted in more than 300 hot meals being delivered to local families every week.
Over the course of lockdown North Paddington Youth Club have been running a detached program five days a week to provide essential support for the community. The club was able to buy gym equipment and laptops to loan out to support young people, and are doing a weekly quiz and an online Muay Thai Fitness class. In an innovative twist, they are also providing a driving theory course for over 18s to support them to get on the road. The club has even been spending £400 a week on gift cards which are distributed to families so that they can purchase their own food.
'The LTA recognised that there has never been a more important time for people and communities to pull together'
However, there is still more that needs to be done. The club report that a lot of their young people are suffering from stress and anxiety as a result of the crisis, and they are currently providing around 12 hours’ staff time focused on mental health support for those young people.
The LTA recognised that there has never been a more important time for people and communities to pull together. They are proud to have been able to deliver support to the families and young people supported by Ronnie and his team, as well as thousands more around the country, through StreetGames #sporthelps campaign. The campaign was developed to support young people and their communities by providing resources, supplies, and advice to improve mental and physical wellbeing through the current coronavirus crisis.
The LTA has been a key partner and a major driver of the campaign’s success, generously donating almost 5,000 tennis activity packs for families to use at home at the start of lockdown.
As part of the racket distribution, recipients also received a leaflet with a number of tennis activities on they can do at home, as well as being signposted to an online video series featuring further home-based fun tennis drills and exercises.
Alongside offering practical resources to keep young people active during lockdown, the LTA has supported BNP Paribas to raise funds for StreetGames at this summer’s British Tour events at the National Tennis Centre. As part of their Aces from the Heart initiative, BNP Paribas raised £20,000 by donating £25 for every ace served at the behind closed doors tournaments.
The funds have gone to supporting the delivery of StreetGames’ ‘Fit and Fed’ holiday campaign which offers fun physical activities and nutritious, free, healthy meals to some of society’s most vulnerable young people, with North Paddington Youth Club being one of the organisations that benefited this summer. The program, designed to support vulnerable young people who might otherwise struggle to eat during school holidays, offers fun activities and tasty, nutritious food at a cost of just £6.26 per child per day and with the ongoing coronavirus pandemic, programs like this are more important than ever.
Supporting communities together
Through their partnership with StreetGames, the LTA is doing vital work to support young people as communities begin to open up, recover, and adjust to the ‘new normal’. This collaborative approach between two national organisations with a shared aim around supporting more active communities will be so vital as the country moves towards recovery from the crisis. Organisations like North Paddington Youth Club are the quiet frontline in the efforts to support vulnerable people through the crisis, delivering aid and support to those who need it most. In these extraordinary times, their work is more important than ever and as lockown eases they will need our support to keep their doors open.