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Games, set and match! Tennis charity hopes to serve up fun

By Jack Averty | Hednesford | In-depth | Published: | Last Updated:

Wimbledon may be over, but one charity is determined to make sure the sport is seen as more than just a two-week fad.

Tennis for Free, which was founded back in 2003, is keen to promote the game as an all-year round sport and to get more people playing.

On top of this the charity wants to promote the social side of tennis – as well as the physical.

The charity, which runs schemes in Hednesford, Lichfield, Sandwell and soon-to-be Dudley and Stourbridge, has announced plans to create 175,000 park players, employ 2,000 coaches and attract 5,000 volunteers over the next four years.

It is expected with this announcement the charity will end up with at least one weekly session in Shropshire.

Impressed by the charity's ambition, the Express & Star went down to one of Tennis for Free's sessions to see how it all worked.

On a sunny Sunday morning, the recently revamped Hednesford Park in Staffordshire made for a great location.

Express & Star reporter Jack Averty gets stuck in at a Tennis for Free session

Dozens of families had made it down with ages ranging from under-10 to some in their 60s.

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The appeal straight away was clear, everyone had a smile on their face and everyone was having fun.

There was no competitiveness, the session wasn't about that. It was about getting out and about, socialising and helping to keep healthy.

Run by the Perrin brothers, James and Chris, from Cheslyn Hay Tennis Club, the pair put on a number of exercises to help people improve their game, as well as having the opportunity to just hit the ball and have fun.

The intention of the session very much reflected the aim of Tennis for Free as a whole.

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It is not about finding 'the next Roger Federer' as chief executive Paul Jessop put it, it is about getting more people to play and enjoy the sport.

Coach James Perrin address the Tennis for Free session at Hednesford

Mr Jessop, who joined as chief executive in 2006, said: "The sport is great psychologically, socially and physically so schemes like this to get people doing a bit of healthy exercise on a morning or afternoon on a weekend is very beneficial."

A large part of Tennis for Free is about making sure park courts are available and are not left to ruin. If the facilities are not there and people have to pay to play then interest in the sport is going to nosedive.

Mr Jessop explained: "As has been seen quite a lot over the years, what tends to happen with council park courts is that you get a set of courts, they start to get old and a bit dilapidated, then they never get used.

"They then get dug up and lost to the sport.

"By coming up with a scheme to get more people to play tennis we help rescue the park courts and get more people with an easy access to the sport.

"Tennis is a good accessible sport if the parks network is well publicised and appealing."

The interest in tennis at Hednesford has snowballed ever since it held its first session in 2015, as coach James Perrin said: "We started the sessions in summer 2015 and it kicked off really well, we had probably 50/60 participants at our first session.

"From that base it has kicked on with lots of new people coming down.

"I think we have had nearly 900 different people experience tennis down at Hednesford and it's all down to the community.

"People who would not normally chose to play tennis have the chance to come down as it is quite accessible.

"Most people in the area know it is the place to come on a Sunday to play with different families and different people."

The scene at Hednesford for a Tennis for Free session

But the ever increasing popularity is not due to recent British tennis success, Mr Jessop has claimed.

He said: "I actually don't think the rise of British tennis makes a big difference.

"There has been a lot of debate over this over the years but after Andy Murray won Wimbledon participation levels actually fell and no one knew the reason for that.

"It is one of these things that is really in the papers and on the news for the few weeks before and during Wimbledon then it is out of the public eye again.

"It is very much the case that people will always be interested in running around and hitting a few balls, regardless of what is happening at the top end."

Founded by comedian Tony Hawks and fashion executive Patrick Hollwey, Tennis for Free is expected to grow and grow in the coming years with many more sessions opening up around the West Midlands and Shropshire.

Those interested in playing or helping to run the sessions, can visit www.tennisforfree.com

Jack Averty

By Jack Averty
Senior Reporter - @javerty_star

Reporter with the Express & Star, based at head office in Wolverhampton

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