Constance Craig Smith: Hartswood Tennis Club is thriving – with a record membership

A guest post from Constance Craig Smith.

Hartswood Lawn Tennis Club, off Hartswood Road in W12, has been around since 1914, when – so rumour has it – it was founded by men going off to fight in World War One in order to give their wives something to keep them occupied.

The British public only gets excited about tennis at Wimbledon time, or when Andy Murray or Jo Konta pull off a high-profile win, or when the ATP Finals are on at the O2 Arena, as they are this week. But at Hartswood we play tennis all year round on our six outdoor courts. We are a hardy bunch and unless it’s raining, or the surface is icy, we play on whatever the temperature even if we are swathed in hats, gloves and layers of thermals.

The club used to have several beautiful but high-maintenance grass courts but these are now a thing of the past, as is the ‘all white’ clothing rule. These days we play on tarmac courts; easy to maintain and incredibly quick to dry, if rather hard on middle-aged knees. The courts have a devilishly high bounce, which baffles visiting teams and gives us quite an advantage when we play home matches.

While the Lawn Tennis Association  reports that many clubs are struggling to keep up their numbers, Hartswood is in the happy position of enjoying record membership with over 400 members; there may soon have to be a waiting list for those wanting to join. It’s partly because our rates are reasonable, but mainly because we try very, very hard not to live up to the stuffy image of so many tennis clubs. New members are welcome even if they are complete beginners, and once you have joined you can book courts as often as you like at no extra cost. There are inexpensive group coaching sessions for players of all ability, and juniors are particularly well catered for. The club is fierce in its commitment to younger players and Saturday mornings during school term time are for juniors only – no adults allowed! There’s also a lively programme of social events.

Apart from technical stuff like court maintenance, and the services of a handyman one day a week, the club is run entirely by its members. Accounts, public relations, gardening and the clubhouse bar are all organised by volunteers. We are proud of our involvement in the local community, with twice-yearly fundraising tournaments for the Chiswick branch of Macmillan Cancer Support, and regular events in aid of The Upper Room.

The great thing about tennis is that you can take it up at any age and improve rapidly. I started playing in my mid 40s, encouraged by a neighbour who is a Hartswood member, and from a very low base I have risen to the dizzy heights of captain of the ladies’ fourth team. I think (hope) I am still improving now I’m in my 50s, and I plan to keep playing for many years to come. But belonging to Hartswood – or any other tennis club – is about far more than honing your forehand. You will get fitter, rediscover your competitive instincts and develop an unhealthy interest in different brands of tennis clothing. Above all, tennis is a social game, and by belonging to your local club you will make lots of new friends and feel part of a community – something that many of us in London are looking for.

Membership details here.

Andrew Brown: Reflections a week on from the Parsons Green attack

A guest post from Cllr Andrew Brown, a Conservative Councillor for Town Ward.

A week today, for residents of our borough, and Fulham especially, our worst fears came to be. With the terrible atrocities at Parliament, in Manchester and London Bridge I’m sure many of us worried that something like that could happen in our community, but hoped it never would. Why would they target our small part of London? But they did, whether intentionally or through incompetence on the way to another target.

All the feelings that we experience when terrorist attacks happen anywhere, are magnified when they are in your country, more so in your city and most of all in your neighbourhood. As a councillor in Town Ward, where the tube station is located, I know hundreds of local residents, many of them friends who use the district line and Parsons Green Station every day. I’m sure everyone in our borough must also know lots of people, both friends and family, who use the station as well, live nearby, or are pupils at the local schools. Our thoughts immediately rush to wondering if they are safe.

I was not far away from the station, having just dropped off my daughter at school, when the headmistress alerted me to the helicopter flying overhead and told me to check the news. The rest of the day went by in a blur, keeping up with the news, liaising with councillor colleagues and local residents’ associations as well as the police and the council.

It was extremely fortunate that the device failed to fully detonate, and we have to be incredibly thankful that nobody was serious injured or killed. I hope that anyone injured on the train, or in the crush afterwards, makes a speedy recovery and receives all the help and support to deal with any psychological trauma as well as any physical injuries. That is now the most important thing.

I was however, also struck by the incredible bravery and professionalism of our emergency services, who put aside their own safety and raced to help those caught up in the incident. The immediate response as well as the police and intelligence work over the last week has highlighted their dedication to keeping us all safe.

But something else struck me and many others, and that was the community spirit in Parsons Green. When I spoke with a Chair of one of the residents’ associations, they told me that residents who had been evacuated from their homes were being taken in for the day by people in neighbouring streets, or being looked after in local businesses such as the White Horse pub, the Sloaney Pony to the locals.

It was this neighbourliness that was exemplified by Teo Catino of Il Pagliaccio who set up a stall on Parsons Green to hand out free bottles of water and 200 pizzas to members of our emergency services.

If anyone had been killed or seriously injured we wouldn’t be able to focus on these acts of kindness, but we should be very thankful that this message of togetherness, compassion and community spirit can be what we remember.

 

Parklet proposed for King Street

I am very pleased to see a proposal from Rivercourt Methodist Church for a “Parklet” on the entrance to their site in King Street. At present there is a dreary patch of concrete.

The inspiration is from the Deli in Brackenbury Road.

It would mean some extra work for members of the Church to maintain the small garden but if they are willing to take this on the initiative seems to be very welcome. The one in Brackenbury Road was given some funding from Transport for London for providing bike hoops.

Steve Lawrence, who is behind the idea, says:

“This is more about someplace to sit rather than a garden but it would still be an upgrade on what is there at present. The area certainly need rejuvenating.”

I am encouraging the Council to respond positively and will report back. These days any enterprise – however modest and worthy – faces practical difficulties and bureaucratic impediments. Let’s hope they an be overcome in this case.

Let children play

I have written before about street parties for special events such as a celebration involving the Royal Family.

They can be most enjoyable and foster greater community spirit for both adults and children.

A report from Play England recommends that Councils encourage regular temporary street closures, for example, for three hour slots once a week after school. This allows children to learn to ride a bike, play football or hopscotch, or just chat. It also gives parents a chance to chat and provide refreshment while supervising the children. They also act as stewards to allow residents to drive in and park safely.

The Sunday Times has reported on examples of where the arrangement is thriving. It operates regularly in 500 residential streets in Britain – including over a hundred in Bristol. In London it has taken off in Ealing, Hackney and Haringey and even being given a push in Greenwich.

What about Hammersmith and Fulham? At present we have no streets regularly taking part.

The Council’s Head of Transport Policy and Network Management tells me:

“We support the play street  project and will assist residents who want to have events in their street.

“So far we have had pilot events in Roxwell Street and Galloway Road, but we haven’t had any requests yet for regular closures.”

Why should this be? Are the children of Ealing inherently better at hopscotch? Are the parents of Greenwich endowed with some special skill at making ham sandwiches and lemonade?

I suspect there would be plenty of participation in our borough if the Council actively encouraged applications.

You can apply here filling in the street parties form. But it doesn’t make clear that the application can be for a regular series – rather than having to fill in the form again for each week.

There is more information available on the Playing Out website and the London Play website.

I am always hesitant to make partisan points. However I would mention in passing that three years ago Labour’s council election manifesto pledged:

“Support communities in local streets to facilitate temporary closures to become play streets.”

Since then it has been quietly forgotten. The “support” has been negligible. We can see from elsewhere in the country that safe outdoor play can flourish where a local authority provides genuine encouragement. We don’t have that in our borough.

But I still hope you will consider it for your street. Please let me know how you get on.