'Tennis has been a lifeline for me' - the human value of park courts
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As people across London continue to flood back to tennis post-lockdown, the LTA is working with a number of the capital’s local authorities as part of a nationwide strategy to help protect and improve public park tennis facilities.
One such authority is Lewisham Borough Council, whose Ladywell Fields park courts played host to a session with local players and coaches from South East London Tennis on Thursday, amid an ongoing collaboration with the LTA on helping drive participation in park courts across the borough.
The work comes as the LTA reported a 372% increase in court bookings between May and July 2020 compared to the same time period last year.
One person who benefits from his local facilities is 70-year-old John Monson from North Greenwich, who has built a valuable support network at Ladywell Fields while caring for his wife. He said: “Tennis has been a personal lifeline for me. My wife is terminally ill and coming to the tennis courts has been absolutely superb for me, both on a physical level and a mental level. I’d be very disappointed if I didn’t have access to these park courts. There is a very special sense of community here. I feel really wonderful when I'm on my way home having made it here and I feel energised for the rest of the day.”
Lewisham is one of many London local authorities LTA is working with on a number of initiatives to drive participation and help make public tennis courts sustainable for the future. These measures include our online booking system – a new digital platform making court, coach and match booking much easier and interest free facility improvement loans for councils looking to upgrade their facilities.
Park tennis courts are a key part of the LTA’s work to diversify participation in the sport, with 1.5 million people having played tennis parks in the last 12 months, almost half being from lower socio-economic groups.
In recent years, the LTA and Lewisham BC have collaborated to install floodlights and gate access systems across four park venues in the borough including Ladywell Fields, and the organisations are now in conversations about installing both at two more venues.
Lewisham BC Cabinet Member for Sports Development, Andre Bourne and LTA Head of Region for London & South East, John Golding also attended the session run by coaches from South East London Tennis.
John Golding, LTA Head of Region London & East said: “Park tennis facilities are absolutely crucial to us sustaining the huge increase in tennis participation levels we have seen this summer, and that is why we are working closely on this with a number of local authorities across London. Lewisham Borough Council is a very engaged authority and it’s been great to come and meet Andre along with an enthusiastic and diverse group of local players and coaches from South East London Tennis today.We are determined to work in partnership with local authorities like Lewisham to safeguard park tennis venues up and down the country, drive participation in tennis in parks and help open up the sport and its benefits to many more people.”
Cllr Andre Bourne said: “We’re delighted to be working with the LTA to drive participation in park tennis across the Borough, and Ladywell Fields park courts are a perfect example of the positive effect of this collaboration. Park courts are vital to making tennis accessible to all and seeing the diverse range of players who are using these courts is proof of that. Since they reopened in May they’ve been really successful and we’ve seen a lot of people who wouldn’t usually play the sport using the tennis courts, and we’ve worked really hard to make sure the facilities are safe.”
What park players said...
Melissa Sack, 30, from Lewisham, said: “I started playing tennis at this park three years ago and it’s been great for my health and social life. I am an introvert so it was really good to play singles with other people, and then being introduced to group lessons as well to meet other people who love the sport. Having a public park court in walking distance from my house is so valuable for me. Normally I work in central London so having these park courts on my doorstep is a really nice outlet for me.”
Maya Dodds, 16, from Lewisham said: “When I first started coming to tennis sessions I wasn’t very confident at all, but tennis has given me a lot more belief in myself and I’m now leading sessions here. The perception of tennis is that it’s just for rich people, coming here you can see it’s for anyone.”
Michael Stephens, South East London Tennis Head Coach, said: "It's fantastic to see the amount of people who come and enjoy playing tennis on these courts. I can remember when people just used to walk their dogs across them but now, thanks to the support from the Council and the LTA, they are in great condition and we love delivering our sessions here."