SPECIAL FEATURE: Grassroots sport coping with a pandemic... Tennis

As the country begins to come out of the coronavirus pandemic-enforced lockdown, the world of sport is slowly starting to click back into gear.
There has been a rise in membership requests at Northampton Lawn Tennis ClubThere has been a rise in membership requests at Northampton Lawn Tennis Club
There has been a rise in membership requests at Northampton Lawn Tennis Club

It has been a tough 10 weeks or so for grassroots sporting clubs across the area, with all activities suspended as part of the battle to get on top of Covid-19.

Thousands of people, young and old, have been denied the chance to play cricket, football, tennis, rugby, bowls and many other sports, but there does seem to be light at the end of the tunnel as restrictions are carefully eased.

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The main focus has unsurprisingly been on the major and professional sports getting back into action, behind closed doors, and in the UK the Premier League is set to resume in a couple of weeks, the Cobblers are on course to get back playing by the end of the month and Silverstone will stage two Formula One GPs in August.

But what about those grassroot sports clubs?

How has the pandemic and suspension of sport affected them over the past three months? How are they coping financially?

Today, the Chron publishes a series of online articles touching on how a selection of the area’s sporting clubs have dealt with the crisis, and their hopes, and fears, for the future.

Number five... Tennis clubs

Northampton Lawn Tennis Club...

The Covid-19 crisis has certainly served up a few challenges for the town’s tennis clubs - but the past few weeks has seen something of a renewed love for the game.

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That is the case for the Northampton Lawn Tennis Club, which is based just off the Wellingborough Road near Weston Favell village.

Despite the ongoing coronavirus pandemic, the club is ‘very busy’ and memberships are on the increase - mainly down to the fact that tennis was one of the first sports to be released from lockdown two weeks ago.

“We are very, very busy at the moment, because all the members want to get out and play,” said NLTC chairman Romano Gallo.

“We opened up about two weeks ago for singles play, limiting the members to the amount of time they could book on court, and we are hopeful that from next week we will open up to doubles play again.

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“The LTA have sent out notification to us that four people from different households, providing they keep the social distancing, etc, they can play together. So we are putting rules together based on those regulations.

“We are having more enquiries about new membership, because up to this week tennis and golf were the two sports that could be played.

“So we have a few more additional members, and we have changed to taking a monthly amount, so it gives the member the confidence that if we do get a second wave of the virus they can cancel their monthly membership rather than pay an annual fee up front.”

That said, there are still serious issues facing Gallo and his club, as they are still not allowed to open their clubhouse, and the thriving social scene that ensured the club’s coffers stayed topped up has gone for the foreseeable future.

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That loss of revenue is going to affect any club,but Gallo says NLTC were perhaps prepared better than most thanks to their ‘sinking fund’.

“We have to put by a certain amount of money each year as a sinking fund, so that we would have enough money to replace the courts every 10 years or so,” said Gallo.

“We raise that money through the year through social events, bar takings and the rest, and we are now eating our way into that fund.

“So that means we will probably have to make the courts last an extra year or two, or raise extra money to make up for the loss we are going to experience this year.”

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As well as not being able to open the bar, the club has had to reduce membership fees by around 40 per cent, but there has been assistance from the Lawn Tennis Association, who have refunded the annual fee paid to them in the spring.

The LTA also offered an interest-free loan, but Gallo said: “We were lucky that we did have money put aside, and we are able to use that for anything that we need to purchase and to keep everything ticking along.”

NLTC currently boasts a membership of around 230 players, but Gallo fears it is going to be a long time before life at his club returns to normal.

“While social distancing is in place I cannot see things getting back to normal, because we have a smallish bar here, so it would be difficult to open that up again,” he said.

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“Also at the moment, people come to the club, play, and then go, so all the social stuff we used to do has gone.

“It is a case now that you book your court at 2pm, you turn up, play until 3pm and then you leave and the next lot come along.

“So, with social distancing I can’t see how that will change a great deal, but it is about getting the most out of what is available.

“We hope that every sports club can make it through this, and the thing for us is that we haven’t got a great deal of expenses, because virtually everything is done on a voluntarily basis.

“We are very lucky in that respect.”

Northampton County Lawn Tennis Club

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Northampton County Lawn Tennis Club head coach Steve Biss has praised the response and help of the Government, Sport England and the Lawn Tennis Association, and their reaction to the coronavirus pandemic.

NCLTC, which is situated in Weston Favell Village in Northampton, has taken a financial hit since sport was locked down in the middle of March.

But Biss feels the club will be able to ride things out, and that the swift reaction of the powers-that-be have played a big part in that.

“During the lockdown, there has been quite a lot of financial support from the Government,” said Biss. “So I think from the club’s point of view they have been able to access a grant.

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"Also, there is something pending from Sport England, and the court registration fees from the Lawn Tennis Association have been refunded.

“So the financial support has been quite good, and also as far as the coaches are concerned, they are self employed and have had the self employed income support scheme, and also they have had a small grant from the LTA as well, as long as they are full time and accredited.”

Tennis was given the green light to resume a couple of weeks ago, and with restrictions being relaxed further this week, something akin to normality is returning to the courts at NCLTC.

But off the court, the club has been hit by the cancellation of its annual beer festival, a crucial fund-raiser.

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“That would be a big earner for the club, but I think that is where the grant comes in,” added Biss.

“I haven’t got all the ins and outs on it, but I would probably think the club is not too out of pocket.”

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