Surbiton Club uses Challenger to reach into community

When LTA chief executive Michael Downey visited the AEGON Surbiton Trophy at the start of the UK grasscourt season, he talked about how important it was for the LTA to lever the sport through local clubs, which he described as “the bedrock of our sport”.

Surbiton Racket and Fitness Club is located in a quiet residential neighbourhood in the south west suburbs of London and was founded in 1881. It is just the kind of club that Downey would like to see help join up the dots within British tennis and enable the sport’s governing body to achieve its mission of getting more people playing more tennis more often.

Roy Staniland (right), director of the club and an LTA Councillor, has a passion for growing the sport, one that was formed as an 11-year-old, when as a young player he rocked up for coaching at the leafy Surbiton club.

“I really enjoyed it but in those days you had the rules where you have to come off court at 10:30 in the morning when the adults turned up,” he said. “And maybe you could get back on when they went for lunch and then you were kicked off at 2pm and allowed back on at 5pm.”

For the past 25 years Staniland has been involved in creating a club run very different to the one he encountered as a youngster. First as assistant manager, then joint manager and now as a director of the limited liability company that was formed in 2005 to enable the club to raise much-needed funds, he has seen the club expand.

An £800,000 investment in 2008 enabled the removal of two squash courts which were replaced with a gym and studio. Membership increased by 500 adults and the investment was repaid. The club is run on a not-for-profit basis, with any surplus being invested back in the fabric of the club. This summer, three courts will be upgraded with floodlights.

Alongside four squash courts and the state-of-the-art gym and studio, the club boasts 11 grass tennis courts, three-floodlit artificial clay and six hard courts, and has around 1550 members of which 300 are juniors. The club employs 16 coaches, who not only provide instruction on site but also provide resources to other local clubs and sites to help set up coaching programmes, a project that Staniland intends to do more of.

“The coaching programme is vast,” he said. “We also work with the Tennis Foundation. We are a disability hub and there are four quite large schools in Kingston for children with disabilities – we work at their venue and they come here too. We are also currently negotiating with a couple of local park sites. It takes a long time.”

The club is situated on land leased from the council and Staniland was involved in negotiating a 75-year lease when the limited company was formed, so these kind of deals are not new to him.

Over the weekend of June 6-7 during qualifying for the Aegon Surbiton Trophy, Staniland and his team hosted a community weekend, where local residents were invited to play at the club, to give cardio tennis and mini tennis a go and try out the kids zone.

“It’s great because the whole place was buzzing,” he said. “There was a very positive vibe with an estimated 800 adults and 200 kids coming through over that first weekend. We wouldn’t have done this without the tournament – it’s a great excuse if you like for the schools to come along, have a go and see some fantastic tennis,” said Staniland, who believes that to both participate and then watch high-level tennis is perhaps more inspiring than simply watching Queen’s or Wimbledon on TV.

Staniland says the re-staging of the Challenger event, after an absence of six years, has other benefits for the club too - it brings all of its members together. As with many tennis events around the world, volunteers are instrumental in delivering the event, with the drivers, stewards and official accommodation being organised by volunteers. Anyone who visited the Challenger event this year will have received a warm welcome.

There were some good results for the British players with Ken and Neal Skupski winning the men’s doubles and Tara Moore and Nicola Slater runners up in the women’s doubles. Former player and now ATP Player Liaison Manager Ross Hutchins said: “The history and the values of this fantastic club make it a unique asset among the ATP’s 250 tournaments worldwide.”

The Surbiton tournament is currently scheduled for one more year. With the additional week in the grasscourt season created by moving Wimbledon back, the governing bodies need to take a look at how the calendar has worked this year before confirming future plans.

Staniland said: “We hope it will be here for a lot longer but it is something we need to work on with the LTA and the All England Club.” Both the LTA and All England Club have been generous in their support of the event, but Staniland sees an opportunity to involve local business in sponsorship of the event. AEGON, as lead partner of the LTA, retain naming rights but there are some vibrant businesses in the area and Staniland could envisage forging local partnerships too.

Time will tell if this historic club will be able to lever the tournament beyond next year. Under Staniland’s watchful eye the 2015 event was a success both in its ability to reach into the community and for the progressive club to stage a tour event that resonated with players and spectators alike.

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