Tennis courts in six parks across Stoke-on-Trent are to benefit from a major investment scheme worth £256,000. The work will include replacing surfaces, repainting lines, and installing new nets. There will also be an upgrade to the booking systems.
Council leader Jane Ashworth, who is a keen tennis player herself said the investment was “great news for residents across the city.” She added that some of the courts being invested in were “in serious need of attention.”
In total, 16 tennis courts in council-run parks will be improved, with work set to start on those in Burslem and Longton parks this week.
The project is being funded by the government and the Lawn Tennis Association Lawn Foundation.
In October 2021, the government announced £22m in funding to improve tennis courts across the UK as part of plans to ‘level up’ access to sports facilities, particularly in communities deemed to be disadvantaged.
Sports Minister Stuart Andrew MP said the government was committed to “levelling up access to sport which is so important for the nation’s physical and mental health.”
He said the improved facilities “will provide the local community with fun opportunities to get active and potentially become the next Andy Murray or Emma Raducanu.”
The Lawn Tennis Association also committed £ 8.4m in funding to the project, which will see 4,500 public tennis courts refurbished.
The scheme aims to improve access to tennis courts in communities considered to be ‘deprived’, and to help young people to meet the guidelines for physical activity set out in the 2019 School Sport and Activity Plan. These are that all children should have access to 60 minutes of physical activity every day, with at least 30 minutes taking place in school and the remainder at home.
Improved access to sports facilities may help to address the city’s long-standing problems with obesity among children and adults. Together Active, a charity across Stoke-on-Trent and Staffordshire promoting better access to sport across the county, quotes on their website data showing that 40.5% of children in Stoke-on-Trent are overweight or obese by Year 6.
Sported, a charity that works to support grassroots sports clubs, published data in February 2022 showing that 68% of the groups it supports were finding it harder to access facilities since the pandemic. This is a problem that has been partially addressed in the past by using school facilities.
In an article published on their website Sported said that the outsourcing of facilities’ management has ‘pushed up costs, which outprices smaller community groups who are also in a weaker position as they are not able to block book sessions’, making the long-term future of many clubs uncertain.
The cost-of-living crisis has also placed pressure on the finances of grassroots sport, with clubs across the country being forced to close as costs escalate. In October last year, a spokesperson for Sported told ITV news there was a risk that half a million under 18s would be priced out of playing sport.
Jane Nickerson, Chief Executive of Swim England said it was vital that grassroots sport is properly funded so that it can “remain at the heart of local communities, helping people lead healthier and happier lives and reducing pressures on the NHS and social care system.”
It is also hoped that improving the quality and accessibility of public tennis courts may lead to the eventual development of a new generation of professional players.
However, the likelihood of this being more than an aspiration was cast into doubt by a report published by the Commons Public Accounts Committee earlier this year. It found that, despite spending £1.5bn, Sport England had delivered, as Chair Meg Hillier said, “precious little in the way of legacy“, from the 2012 Olympics, with only a 1.2% increase in activity among adults between 2016 and 2019.
The investment by the Lawn Tennis Association is part of their Tennis Opened Up plan that aims to make the game ‘relevant, accessible, welcoming, and enjoyable’.
Julie Porter, Chief Operating Officer at the Lawn Tennis Association said public tennis courts are “vital facilities for getting active”, adding “we want as many people as possible, of all ages and abilities, to pick up a racket and enjoy playing tennis. Thanks to this investment the sport will be opened up to more players, for years to come.”
Work will start
Work on each of the courts to be renovated in Stoke-on-Trent parks will take between six weeks to two months, depending on the weather and the amount of work needing to be done and will be staggered to reduce disruption.
Jane Ashworth urged residents to be patient while the work is being carried out, adding that once completed the city will “have fantastic new facilities that will be managed and invested in for years to come.”
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