Like many sports clubs, Fulwood had flourished in the ‘70s, ‘80s, and ‘90s, but had been hit hard by the proliferation of alternative entertainment which emerged in the 2000s. But current chair Jane Blackwell knew it had potential.
“We knew we needed to introduce new initiatives and evolve,” says Jane, 56, from Fulwood. “Which is what we did - we gathered a core group of 20 volunteers and started to reach out to the community, raised our profile, and tried to get more juniors involved.
“We also applied for a Sport England Community Asset Fund grant, which was a massive help,” adds Jane. “That gave us something to build on and we turned things around.”
Jane has been a member at Fulwood, originally founded in 1892, since she was an 11-year-old junior in the ‘70s, having joined with her father. Her parents were themselves tennis players and thought the sport would prove a good hobby for their daughter. How right they were.
“I just loved it,” says Jane. “I had a good eye for the ball and played on the ladies’ team from 13. Tennis has gone on to be a lifelong hobby and it really is a game for life, which is one of the reasons I’m still passionate about it to this day.”
Run by volunteers, the club faced a unique situation during Covid: because tennis was one of the few outdoor sports people could play whilst social-distancing, its popularity boomed. “The pandemic drew people to the sport,” says Jane. “We had people coming down who’d never played before and they loved it.
“We’ve been full for two years and have a waiting list of 70,” she adds, with the club also taking advantage of lockdown restrictions to resurface their floodlit courts to install a £60k all-weather surface as well as to carry out repairs and decorations.
“The new courts injected a lot of interest in the club,” continues Jane, who competes for the club and for Lancashire over-55s Seniors. “Coming back post-lockdown has been such a joyful experience.”
Having been able to access a government grant to offset the financial hit of not being able to hire out the clubhouse during lockdown, Fulwood is once again offering court-hire at off-peak times as well as coaching for both juniors and adults. The future of local tennis looks bright.
“When people discover tennis, they realise how sociable a sport it is for all ages and how good it is physically,” says Jane. “And the sport has had a higher profile of late because the Brits have done quite well.
“We need to keep evolving and we have a fantastic volunteer team,” she adds. “A lot of people contribute and that’s vital for clubs like ours and makes for a really caring and cohesive club.
“It sounds like a cliche, but we’re one big happy family!”