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Ruhel Ahmed poses at The British Muslim Heritage centre after winning the SERVES community tennis project of the year

Manchester SERVES site wins BEDSA award


When Ruhel Ahmed was first approached last year about delivering tennis as part of the activities at Manchester’s British Muslim Heritage Centre, he simply laughed, saying tennis wasn’t a sport for his community.

Roll on to 2019 and Ruhel stepped on to the stage in front of Sky Sports cameras on Saturday 13 May to collect a national award in recognition of the impact they have had in engaging BAME communities in tennis.

Ruhel is the Activities Coordinator at the British Muslim Heritage Centre, a community organisation based in southwest Manchester. The centre is part of a network of over 200 community sites across the country that are part of the LTA’s SERVES project, and on Saturday night they were named the SERVES Community Tennis Project of the Year at the annual British Ethnic Diversity Sports Awards (BEDSAs).

SERVES is the LTA’s leading sport for development programme that takes tennis to places it has never been played before and to people who may never have picked up a racket or thought tennis was for them. Working with a range of national partners who have expertise and contacts in the target areas, it takes tennis out of its traditional areas and right to the heart of disadvantaged communities. People from those communities are then recruited and trained to help deliver sessions.

Over 10,000 young people have been engaged in the programme to date and over 600 coaches, youth workers, community and faith group leaders have been trained as tennis activators.

The programme is helping to change perceptions among some communities that tennis is not a sport for them. Ruhel recalled his thoughts when the LTA and Sporting Equals first spoken with him about joining the programme: “When we were first approached about becoming part of the SERVES programme and delivering tennis to BAME communities I was thinking this isn’t going to work. First of all, as leader I had to believe in it, then try to sell it to my team and then to the community and the young people, and I couldn’t see that happening.

“But when the SERVES team came and delivered training to our staff that inspired us. We saw that tennis could be fun, and that the SERVES programme gives the flexibility for us to be creative and deliver the sport in a way that works for us.

Through the programme they have developed their confidence and self-esteem

“Then we were given the opportunity by the LTA to attend a two day training programme along with a whole range of groups from across the country. That really broadened our horizons as to what was possible as we networked with people who had experience of delivering tennis to BAME communities and gained their advice. We left thinking ‘we can do this and make it successful for our community in Manchester’.

A new convert to the concept, Ruhel and his team set about making it a reality, with tennis now a firmly established part of the activities programme for the young people at the Centre.

“We run both a girls and a boys youth club” continued Ruhel. “As part of that we now run weekly SERVES tennis sessions – the girls every Friday evening and the boys on a Saturday evening. As a result, we are now engaging approximately 50 BAME Muslim young people in playing tennis every week, which is fantastic”.

“For us, tennis was something new – we didn’t know how the programme was going to evolve but as time has gone on the young people have taken more and more interest in getting involved with SERVES. Through the programme they have developed their confidence and self-esteem, and importantly playing tennis has become fun for them – something they didn’t necessarily think would be the case at the outset.”

Ruhel manages all the youth activities at BMHC, and alongside him on the BEDSA stage to collect the award on Saturday were two of his assistants, Usamah Abdul Kareem and Salman Samir.

This is about celebrating diversity

“It means a lot for us to win this award” a beaming Ruhel said after the trio had posed for backstage photos. “We were just very happy to be nominated, and be at the awards among such a diverse audience – that was an achievement in itself. To actually then receive the award was just a mind-blowing thing for us, so we want to thank everyone who has supported us with this project and believed in us.

“But most importantly, this is about celebrating diversity. It means we are putting tennis on the map for the BAME Muslim communities in Manchester, so that’s why receiving this award is really so important to us.”

Created by Sporting Equals, the British Ethnic Diversity Sports Awards have become a key date in the sporting calendar and are showcase the excellent work and talent among diverse communities.

The LTA are a supporter of the awards, along with the likes of Sport England, UK sport and Sky Media. The British Muslim Heritage Centre had been part of a strong shortlist for the SERVES Community Tennis Project of the Year award, alongside Coventry’s Positive Youth Foundation and London’s Young Hackney organisation.

Claire Wheeler, the LTA’s Community Tennis Manager, said “The LTA was delighted to continue our close work with Sporting Equals by supporting this year’s BEDSAs and showcasing the work being done to engage BAME communities in tennis.

“SERVES sites across the country are doing some amazing work every week. We partner with organisations who themselves aim to unite and transform communities, and make a difference to people’s lives. The British Muslim Heritage Centre team are a leading example of that and of the way tennis is embracing a greater diversity of young people. They hugely deserve this recognition and we are delighted to have them as part of our SERVES programme.”

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