The Wigan tennis club hoping for a future Wimbledon champion
PUBLISHED: 01:16 20 June 2011 | UPDATED: 19:34 20 February 2013
It's that time of year when we pray Britain will produce a Wimbledon champion. Lancashire is doing its bit by starting them young. Peter Osborne reports Photography by Kirsty Thompson
As Wimbledon approaches, tennis clubs up and down the country are well into their tennis season and hoping to discover that elusive home-grown champion.
One of these, the Bellingham Lawn Tennis Club in Wigan with a proud history stretching back to the start of the 20th century, is confidently building for the future with a strong junior development and coaching programme including regular visits to schools in the Wigan area.
The club is no stranger to tennis at the highest level, with former member Jane O Donoghue taking on Venus Williams in the first round at Wimbledon in 2002.
The Bellingham is already one of Lancashires largest and best equipped clubs, with nine tennis courts (three floodlit) and a modern clubhouse, with ambitions to go further. The club boasts a number of successful mens, womens and mixed teams in the Warrington and District League but it is the junior players who have excelled in recent years, winning honours at local, regional and national levels, including the national Road to Wimbledon competition.
Recognising that younger members are the lifeblood of the game, the club has made a priority of encouraging and supporting them in local team competitions and is already having successes. For example, Bellinghams 13 and under boys A team won the 2011 North West Manchester Winter league for the fifth time in the events nine year history.
This way Bellinghams younger players have maintained vital competitive experience during the winter months and their success will act as a beacon for other juniors.
Club Chairman Geoff Ashton sums up the clubs ambitions. We have a
new, enlarged executive committee that has new ideas, an enthusiasm for hard work and a commitment to make things happen.
We are always looking at better use of our facilities and resources to increase the tennis opportunities available to both members and the local community. The strength of our junior tennis is down to a dedicated group of parents who give up their time to organise and transport our junior members to matches.
Part of this drive to recruit and develop the best players of tomorrow have been a series of successful open days staged for non-members three times a year. The first, which was at Easter, has become a permanent fixture in the clubs calendar. With the emphasis on fun, attractions include an Easter egg hunt for younger visitors, mini-tennis and cardio-tennis, a new keep-fit exercise which is also being promoted to local hospitals and surgeries.
Our open days have been particularly popular with families, many of them joining on the day. We welcome both new and returning players and all members, young and old, benefit from reduced coaching fees too, says head coach Andy Carey.
The Bellingham particularly prides itself on its junior coaching and development programmes. Andy and qualified coach Suzanne Rath provide a range of courses and lessons to suit all ages and abilities, with non-members welcome to attend.
Working closely with the Lancashire Lawn Tennis Association (LTA), the club was one of the first to receive the coveted LTA Clubmark status, which was fittingly awarded by Wigan-born Roger Draper who is Chief Executive of the LTA.
Benefits of Clubmark include on-going programme development, increased membership, increased participation, staff development, a raised profile and access to more funding opportunities. Having Clubmark status means that parents can be assured that their children are in a safe environment, the club deliver a comprehensive tennis programme for all ages and abilities, and produces a clear plan of action for long term sustainability and future growth.
Although we would love to discover a future Wimbledon champion, it is equally important to ensure that the club builds strong foundations for the next generation to enjoy playing, competing and socialising with each other. By continuing to work closely together for the long-term we will have a thriving, inclusive, community-based club that we can all be proud of, concludes Geoff Ashton.