As the national governing body for tennis, we would normally be in the middle of our calendar of summer grass court events, though sadly this year that’s not the case. However, there are grounds for positivity both in the upcoming return to elite behind closed doors competition, and the huge numbers of people we have seen playing recreationally since lockdown restrictions were eased in May.
These are very encouraging signs as we continue working towards our vision of opening up tennis so more and more people can benefit from its unique physical and mental health benefits. But, now more than ever, it is crucial that organisations like ourselves do not rest on our laurels and continue to make our sport more accessible, welcoming and enjoyable to everyone no matter their age, background or ability.
One vital element of this work is focused on park tennis facilities, which are absolutely crucial to achieving increased and sustained participation levels in our sport. However, we recognise the significant challenges that local authorities are facing right now, particularly around provision of sporting and leisure facilities. That is why we have announced a comprehensive, cost-free offer to local authorities to help support provision of flexible, free and low-cost opportunities for people in local communities to pick up a racket and get active through tennis.
At a time when there are concerns for the long-term sustainability of grass roots sport, we want to work with authorities across the country to help capitalise on the demand for recreational tennis and future-proof their park tennis offer.
Nearly 1.5 million people have played tennis on park courts in the last 12 months and almost half are from lower socio-economic groups. Our package of initiatives will help local authorities to both improve the health and wellbeing of their communities through the sport and ensure their tennis venues are sustainable.
At the centre of this offer is LTA Rally, our new digital platform designed to make it much easier for participants to find and book a court, group coaching and people to play with. LTA Rally is completely free to sign-up to for local authorities, and we want as many local authorities as possible to list their park venues on the platform, to make the participant journey to court much easier, removing barriers and helping to drive participation at park venues.
We have also identified a list of nearly 1,000 priority target parks across England to use as a platform to open up the sport to more people. At these venues, we will fully fund installation of gate access technology, to help local authorities track usage and generate a sinking fund where court hire costs are in place. Those local authorities which have already installed gate access systems at their park courts have seen huge growth in the number of bookings and regular users. Where local authorities charge for court use, they have begun to develop sinking funds for their sites, and many combine paid slots at peak times with free options at other times during the week, to ensure affordable opportunities for all to participate
The coronavirus pandemic and subsequent trends since the easing of lockdown restrictions have demonstrated how important parks are as community facilities and places for people from all backgrounds to be active. As park tennis courts across the country continue to open back up, we are determined to work with local authorities to safeguard these venues, to ensure they continue to serve as hubs to bring individuals and communities together through tennis.
We want to talk to as many local authorities as possible to make that happen. To discuss signing up to LTA Rally, or the range of other initiatives that we have in place to support local authorities around park courts, please contact PublicAffairs@lta.org.uk.
Scott Lloyd is LTA chief executive