Given that Bedfordshire borders Cambridgeshire, our President could have chosen nearly any date for a short visit to the county. He happened to settle on the wettest two October days in recent memory – but nevertheless we managed to see a fair selection of the venues and volunteers that help to keep Cambridgeshire tennis functioning through rain and sun. Friday 2 October commenced in late afternoon with a visit to Cocks & Hens Tennis Club located in the Newnham outskirts of Cambridge. This old-established club was forced to relocate from its more central Cambridge location in 2015 owing to Trinity College repossessing their former site for residential development (aka making loads more money). In fairness, Trinity found a new site with more space and constructed eight courts and a club house to replace the former club facilities. The club under its current Chair Guy Seaborn and Head Coach Justin Layne have recently fitted out all courts with LED floodlighting. David together with the Chair of Trustees of the club, Barrie Hunt, switched them on for the first time – disappointingly to empty courts and a steady downpour! Plans are being considered to add up to four more hard courts. Two grass courts are being prepared for 2021 with assistance from the groundsman from Pembroke College sports ground located nearby. In the course of this visit David (who was accompanied by Brenda) also presented club and county stalwart Barrie Hunt with his LTA County Award for Lifetime Achievement.
Justin Layne did take to the very wet court with one keen junior player to test out the new LED floodlights. They were very impressed with the improved visibility and the entire gathering is sure this upgrade will lead to a further increase in membership.
The rain continued to fall on Friday evening and it was time to look at some junior tennis indoors at Hills Road Tennis Centre Cambridge. This facility of four indoor and six outdoor courts plays host to a Junior Performance Centre run by local coaching organisation Over & In. David and Brenda met with coaches Hamid Hejazi, Sue Rich and Chris Little and watched some training for young players from 12-18. They also had the opportunity to speak to a few parents who were very complimentary about the standard of coaching and development being offered to their children. There are some very promising juniors in the county who have been training hard since May – and who competed in the County Closed event, marketed as the Cambridgeshire Festival of Tennis. This attracted a creditable 160 players, 249 entries and 336 matches in 18 events. They are all looking forward to a time when they can regularly compete in tournaments and county events.
Mark and Dawn Sanders joined David and Brenda for a relaxed and enjoyable dinner, which inevitably included more tennis talk before returning home in anticipation of a busy itinerary on the following day. Saturday 3 October started at just after 8 am with arguably the most important part of the visit, a match at Cambridge LTC which pitted David and Mark against the cream of Cambridgeshire’s over 55 team, captain Simon Elliott and Chris Cope. In truth these were the only two players mad enough to turn out in pouring rain to take on the LTA President and the Cambs Councillor. David and I have an unenviable record in doubles of played 3 lost 3 and the fact that we scraped a victory in this match was most welcome – and put us both in a good mood for the remainder of the day. The tennis was of a very reasonable standard considering the wet courts and increasingly heavy balls. Our thanks to Cambridge LTC for the use of an artificial clay court which remained playable and not at all slippery in very inclement conditions.
Official duties then took over as David presented (or more accurately re-presented) Cambridge LTC with its LTA County Club of the Year Award, club member Steve Shaw with the LTA Regional Disability Award and Teresa Catlin with the Senior Female Player of the Year Award. Teresa, who is a coach and Club Manager at Cambridge LTC, won the individual World Championships singles and doubles in 2019 in her age group which was a spectacular achievement.
The club has over 1,000 members and club Chair Tim Arthur is always supportive of initiatives to open up tennis and also to encourage performance play through the hosting of tournaments. It is an excellent club with an engaged committee that thoroughly deserves the many awards it has received over recent years. Tim is also Chair of Cambridgeshire LTA.
Cambridge is undoubtedly the strongest hub for tennis within Cambridgeshire. This is due to the number of clubs in and around the city and also to the prosperous demographic in the area. However the county association is working hard to support the development of tennis away from Cambridge. Our next visit was to Huntingdon 20 miles NW of Cambridge. Huntingdon TC has 4 outdoor courts and 3 indoor acrylic courts under a double skin bubble. Recently coaching and day-to-day management of the club has been handed over to the coaching and training organisation Inspire2coach. We met with I2C Area Manager Anita Duff and watched a few minutes of a level 1 coaching course taking place in the bubble. This is a club which has room for a substantial increase in membership and I2C are working hard to achieve growth through community outreach, school programmes and increased opportunities for members. The security of indoor play will definitely help with this. Additionally long-standing coach Julian Payne is hosting under 8 mini red sessions for aspiring county players living in the north of the countyDavid was introduced to three further members of the Cambridge LTC coaching team who were delivering group lessons to a few hardy youngsters who were getting very wet. Finally he was introduced to Mark Goodman who – together with his wife Karen – owns East Anglia’s premier tennis equipment and racket stringing service, Top Spin Tennis. This company has outlets in Cambridgeshire, Suffolk, Norfolk and Buckinghamshire and has offered huge support to tennis in each of these counties.
Cambridge is undoubtedly the strongest hub for tennis within Cambridgeshire. This is due to the number of clubs in and around the city and also to the prosperous demographic in the area. However the county association is working hard to support the development of tennis away from Cambridge. Our next visit was to Huntingdon 20 miles NW of Cambridge. Huntingdon TC has 4 outdoor courts and 3 indoor acrylic courts under a double skin bubble. Recently coaching and day-to-day management of the club has been handed over to the coaching and training organisation Inspire2coach. We met with I2C Area Manager Anita Duff and watched a few minutes of a level 1 coaching course taking place in the bubble. This is a club which has room for a substantial increase in membership and I2C are working hard to achieve growth through community outreach, school programmes and increased opportunities for members. The security of indoor play will definitely help with this. Additionally long-standing coach Julian Payne is hosting under 8 mini red sessions for aspiring county players living in the north of the county - which will help bring the club to the attention of a wide range of families.
The final visit in the north of the county was to the City of Peterborough Tennis Club now established as an integral part of Peterborough Town Sports Club, which also offers bowls, cricket, hockey and squash. Tennis moved here in 2016 from a former site and the proceeds of the sale of grounds has been used to substantially improve and install floodlighting on three existing macadam courts and to erect two frame fabric acrylic indoor courts. Membership has risen from 25 to around 500 since 2016. This is a magnificent story driven by the vision of PTSC Committee and in particular by the chair of the tennis section Bill Skead. Peterborough has a population of around 200,000 and it is growing rapidly and has a higher number of younger people than average. Previous tennis offerings were in small clubs and one small David Lloyd centre. The emergence of City of Peterborough TC has totally rejuvenated tennis in the area. The substantial coaching programmes provided by Inspire2coach, pay and play, community outreach and disability programmes are all contributing to increase footfall on court. The ready availability of other sports on the site has been an added attraction enticing young sportspeople to try new sports. David presented LTA County Coach of the Year Award to head coach Max Lambert and passed over to Bill Skead the LTA County Young Person of the Year Award to be handed to Alice Craig, who is currently studying at university.
David, Mark and Tim Arthur has the opportunity to meet with Bill and two members of Peterborough Town Sports Club committee to discuss the approach to building two further frame fabric indoor courts. There is space on the site and the business plan prepared by the tennis club shows clearly that there is demand and importantly the financial wherewithal to repay the loans required. Mark and Tim consider this project to be important to sustain growth in the north of Cambridgeshire. It will also enable tournaments and county training to take place in Peterborough as well as Cambridge – to the benefit of those living in the north of the county.
General Issues Raised in the Course of the President’s Visit A fundamental challenge in Cambridgeshire is that there are many small village clubs with four or less courts located on recreation grounds. The future of these clubs depends on the drive and enthusiasm of the committees and many are very popular and sustainable. There are however not enough large clubs. Our ideal is to build up larger clubs in Cambridge, Huntingdon, Peterborough and in the future at Ely and Wisbech that will be able to provide support and advice to their smaller neighbours. They can also act as centres of coaching excellence able to provide the programmes for players on the start of a performance pathway. This is beginning to evolve and we are working hard to engage with head coaches to build club-county dialogue and an atmosphere of co-operation. There has been a history of supporting sustainable capital programmes in the county with grants which were enabled by the Cambridgeshire Fund in recent years. The ability of county to seed-fund projects enabled venues to successfully apply for additional third party grants. Whilst the easy access loans are useful, we have not found that they are as beneficial in attracting further grants and the absence of grant-funding will slow down the speed of development in the county. County – as well as the clubs concerned - was disappointed that Peterborough has not been designated as a target location for an indoor centre. It is difficult to rationalise that Cambridge with 12 permanent indoor courts (15 in winter) and the potential of a new university centre is a target location whilst a rapidly growing city with only two permanent indoor courts (6 in winter) is not. We will work to help City of Peterborough achieve their ambition of 2 additional indoor courts. County officials have worked hard to encourage venues to adopt ClubSpark as their IT platform. All agree that this has some excellent and relevant features which help clubs manage their membership, court bookings and coaching programmes. A number of venues have advised us that ClubSpark is slow to deal with bugs and enhancements and communication with them is difficult. We feel that ClubSpark is the prime interface between venues and the LTA and the LTA will be heavily judged by the performance of ClubSpark. We would recommend: • The establishment of a user group for ClubSpark • Information on bugs with time frame for fixes • A timetable of enhancements to be launched • An explanation of developments being considered with approximate time frames • A list of issues that will not be tackled in the short-medium term and why • An easy method of logging issues with an acknowledgement they have been received All who met David in Cambridgeshire appreciated his willingness to discuss issues constructively and provide an avenue for further information. His intention to visit every county is admirable and his increased understanding of the issues relevant to grass roots tennis will be an invaluable aid to future discussions at a higher level. Thank you David and Brenda for the opportunity to meet up and show you some of what we have to offer.