Parbold Badminton Club: The passionate Lancashire club putting the good back in badminton
While it may have a reputation for being slightly less extreme than its sister racquet-sport tennis, badminton is actually much faster, with shuttles clocking speeds in excess of 200mph at the very highest level, compared to tennis' peak of 163mph.
And while Parbold Badminton Club may not bear witness to many 320kmph shuttlecocks, the passion for the game at the club is undeniable.
Founded in 1995, the club meets twice a week, enabling local participants to join a friendly and relaxed group of mixed-level players and share in the love of a sport which traces its lineage back thousands of years and which was named after the country estate of the Duke of Beaufort in Gloucestershire.
"The club has been going about 26 years and, while I wasn't there at the outset, I've been part of it for about 20 years," says Chris Hiley, who is from the Lake District but who has lived in Parbold almost 50 years. "I played a bit of badminton earlier in life, but I've always been more of a cricketer, playing for a few local clubs and finishing up at Mawdesley about eight years ago.
"My son, however, started playing at Parbold Badminton Club when he was about 14, having originally gone down with a friend," adds Chris, 70. "He started playing regularly and, one night, they were short of players, so I joined them and I've played regularly myself ever since. I enjoyed it straight away because it's a great game and a good bit of exercise, too."
With around 25 members, the club welcomes about 10 players to each of their bi-weekly meet-ups at Parbold Village Hall on a Monday and - since the start of summer - at a more spacious location in Croston of a Thursday.
"We've always had a good group of people at the club and it's always been a very friendly and sociable place with a good atmosphere," says Chris. "While we haven't really grown tremendously in terms of numbers over the years, the main change has been that we've had a larger number of younger players coming along - people in their late 20s and early 30s.
"That's great for the future of the club because, when I started, it was more of an older age group whereas now we have that next generation coming through," he adds, with the club also running a range of events throughout the year. "We've still got a good a good age range, though - I think there are four of us in our 70s as well as the younger people.
"We have a good spread."
Having always placed an emphasis on playing for the love of the game, Covid hampered things immensely for a club whose priority has always been providing people the chance to keep fit and active in a sociable atmosphere whilst also enjoying the opportunity to meet other like-minded members of the community.
"The social side of things is very important - a few years ago, we ran some taster sessions with the aim of getting more people active and meeting new people in the local area - so obviously the last year-and-a-half has been difficult, what with Covid," explains Chris. "I think some people have gotten out of the habit of doing regular activity.
"In my eyes, we offer a good chance to get out the house and to meet up with people," he continues. "We've all been isolated for quite a while; not playing badminton was strange for me because it's my primary form of exercise and I'd gotten used to playing twice a week for so long.
"Even when restrictions were lifted briefly last summer, we were limited to just six players, but we've been back up to full numbers since May. And, while people were itching to get back, quite a few members were still understandably anxious about getting back as part of a larger group, so it's been slow to get back to the old routine.
"But we're just about there now, which is great to see."