Sports Editor Sam Cooper spoke to the LTA Regional Tennis Education Officer, Laura Lattimore, on their hopes of getting more students involved.
Just two miles away from the student hub of Fallowfield sits Alexandra Park tennis courts. The venue recently celebrated its 1000th registered user and the landmark recognises an increasing interest in tennis from the Manchester community.
As well as targeting the Manchester community, the Lawn Tennis Association is looking to attract more students to the game and Laura Lattimore explains what is on offer.
“Currently within Manchester, we’ve got great opportunities that students from the universities can access. Fallowfield Tennis Club are doing a really good job of providing access for students. There’s over 100 students currently signed up at the club. They’ve made sure that they are outwardly facing to students.
“So it’s easy access, they’ve got access gates. You can book online. You don’t have to pay a club or a hut. It’s very much about the student experience. They’ve also made upgrades in their clubhouse with pool tables, social events, and things like that. Currently that is an offer that is really good for the students.
“It may be that tennis is viewed as quite a technically difficult sport to play and maybe a club is just that step too far for someone who is just starting in tennis so a park site is one of the areas that we want to encourage students to go to because it’s a great introduction.”
The association has made a particular case of making the booking process as easy as possible with the introduction of online booking systems.
“It’s how life is now. We want everything at a touch of a button and we can pay for it easy. If somebody knows how they can book a court straightaway and we’ve made the user’s journey as simple as possible so it’s just one click onto a website. They’re booked onto a court, they know how to access the court when they’re down there. It just means we’re making the reputation of tennis as easier to access as a sport.”
One of the particular areas for improvement that has been targeted is the number of covered courts. Just 5 percent of the city’s courts are covered which can make it impossible to play during the winter months.
“If it’s raining, that’s one of the barriers to people playing. The courts are slippy. We want to make sure as a governing body, we’re investing in as many facilities as we can to make sure we can have them open all year round. Tennis is viewed as a summer sport, we know that it isn’t because we’re tennis people and we like to play all the time.
“If you’re new to tennis, your first experience will probably be when Wimbledon is on. Covers for us a as sport are quite crucial because we want to make sure it’s an all year round accessible sport.”
The increase of covered courts is part of the Transforming British Tennis Together initiative where the LTA is investing £125 million pounds to double number of covered and floodlit courts over the next 10 years to get more people playing all-year round.
A further £125 million could also be available through matched funding from local councils and community networks with a shared vision for growing the game.
“For each Transforming British Tennis Together Fund bid, we’ll provide up to 50 percent of the necessary funding, around half of which will come in the form of a grant and the remaining half as an interest free loan. For example, if your total funding requirements for all the venues involved is £500k we will fund up to £250k with £125k as a grant and £125k as an interest free loan.”
This initiative also brings about job opportunities for students as well as playing ones.
“With development of the sites that are hopefully coming up, another impact on students is we need people to man these sites and work on these sites. Obviously we’re hoping that this will be a process happening in the next few years. We hope that Manchester will be developing quite quickly so there will be massive opportunities for students to become involved in our workforce.
“Within the education part we do provide opportunities to gain work and qualifications. Tennis is a profitable business to be in once you get to the level where you can coach out there on your own there are some great opportunities.
“We hope that this project will make it more accessible for students but we hope we’re providing some employment opportunities as well while they are in the city.”
The LTA is calling on tennis clubs, parks, local government, volunteers, coaches and businesses across Manchester and the North West to come together and register their interest in bidding for the funds to transform their local tennis courts. For more information visit lta.org.uk