Bristol’s tennis community marked World Mental Health Day on Tuesday 10 October with a celebration of the city’s initiatives successfully using tennis as a way to help mental health sufferers improve their quality of life through activity and social interaction.
Thanks to a partnership between the LTA, local clubs, Avon and Wiltshire NHS Mental Health Trust, the Tennis Foundation and the Bristol Active Life Project, Bristolians struggling with mental health problems have access to a network of groups that aim to address associated issues around social isolation and low activity levels.
Projects in the city include a weekly tennis and wellbeing session for mothers and under 5s at Kings Lawn Tennis Club, a long-running programme at Knowle Tennis Club in the south of the city for people who have experience, or are living with, a long-term mental illness and welcoming Ability session at Cotham Park Tennis Club that caters to each participant’s needs and Redland Green Club’s programme for those suffering with acute mental health conditions.
Andrew from Bristol takes part in the sessions at Redland Green Club and says: “I started coming along to the sessions in April and it is has made a real difference. The coaches and the club are so welcoming – it’s a great environment here. I used to play tennis when I was younger so to get the chance to play again at this stage of my life is fantastic. I’m so pleased I found out about the programme.”
At Redland Green Club, the sessions are run by coach Toby Huddlestone and supported by Rachel Smith. Toby has seen real changes take place in the participants, who are referred to join the sessions by the city-wide partnership.
“A lot of the guys that come to the sessions tell me it’s what gets them out of bed on a Tuesday morning and that it enlivens their whole day,” Toby revealed.
It would be great to build this across the city and get to a situation where every tennis club in the city had a programme like this in place. Bristol could really be the model for the rest of the country for this sort of thing.”
Many existing programmes struggle to continue running through the winter months due to a lack of indoor facilities and floodlit courts. Investment into improving facilities is key to sustaining the programmes and increasing provision, especially during winter when social isolation and the negative effects of mental health problems can be most difficult.
Redland Green Club is hoping to benefit from the LTA’s unprecedented £125 million investment into grassroots tennis, Transforming British Tennis Together, with plans to improve current facilities and enable potential expansion of programmes such as this.
The sessions are tailored to the specific needs of the participants and their recovery programmes each week, with social interaction, activity and conversation some key elements of the weekly groups.
The LTA has previously supported mental health initiatives through tennis with the appointment of Mental Health Ambassadors Naomi Cavaday and Oli Jones, who last year spoke out about their own struggles with depression and bipolar disorder respectively. To mark this year’s World Mental Health Day (Tuesday 10 October), the LTA has released a video in which Oli and Naomi talk about what they get out of tennis and how the sport – and opening up about their struggles – has benefitted their own mental wellbeing.
Julie Jones, Regional Tennis Participation Manager for the South West at the Lawn Tennis Association, said: “We are very proud of the partnerships across Bristol that have enabled these programmes to thrive and they are great examples of how working together to make tennis accessible can deliver huge benefits to people’s mental wellbeing.
“Through Transforming British Tennis Together, the opportunities are there for clubs and communities across the South West to partner with the LTA and benefit from this record level of funding to improve their local facilities. We’re looking forward to working with Redland Green Club and we’re encouraging other community organisations and local authorities to get in touch and tell us what they need to help get more people playing more often.”
Helen Abbott, Disability Tennis Coordinator for Bristol, working with the Tennis Foundation, said: “Bristol is leading the way in using tennis as a means to help those whose mental health prevents them from being able to access mainstream activities. The programmes we run here and at other venues like Cotham, Kings and Knowle are invaluable for the participants and enable them to have a positive physical activity to look forward to each week, to help improve overall fitness and to help reduce a feeling of social isolation.
“We would love to expand these programmes to offer more sessions at more venues across the city and year-round, but the facilities have to be there first. Transforming British Tennis Together is a very exciting opportunity for us to continue making a real difference to people across Bristol and the region.”
Transforming British Tennis Together aims to reduce the barriers to playing tennis by doubling the number of floodlit and covered courts across the UK over the next ten years, increasing available playing hours. The initiative will also see the LTA work with local communities across the region to:
- Install online booking and entry systems so everyone can book a tennis court easily from their mobile phone, computer or tablet;
- Refurbish courts, clubhouses and other social spaces to ensure players have a great experience every time they visit; and
- Support other innovative and creative ideas that meet local demand.
The LTA is calling on tennis clubs, parks, local government, volunteers, coaches and businesses across the region to come together and register their interest in bidding for the funds to transform their local tennis courts. For more information visit www.lta.org.uk/TBTT. There are also opportunities to join the LTA at regional roadshow events during October to find out more about Transforming British Tennis Together and what the investment can do in local areas. To sign up for a roadshow event visit www.lta.org.uk/venue-management/facilities-advice/