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A brief history of the last two and a half years

Like every corner of society, when the global pandemic struck, our little Table Tennis Club in Heckmondwike, West Yorkshire fell upon hard times. Before lockdown, we made a very modest profit each year, just enough to invest back into the club to purchase new equipment when needed, and for the general upkeep and maintenance.

However, lockdown meant we had no income and furthermore, when restrictions were eased, many former players has re-evaluated their desire to play the sport, which resulted in just a fraction of people coming back to play.

A further blow came when key members of the club committee decided to retire or move out of the area. What was left was a skeleton crew of just two people – Garry Crossley and Bernard Oldroyd who, at the ages of 76 and 84 respectively, were also ready for retirement.

So, what to do in such circumstances? There was talk of investment from a private firm, who would use the club for their own activities such as indoor cricket, badminton, yoga etc. The Table Tennis would continue, but on a very limited basis (2 or 3 times a week). There was even talk (only briefly) of letting the club die and fade away into obscurity. The struggle was very real and dare I say it, scary.

Seeing the situation unfold, I discussed the situation with my good friend and club member, Ivan Lewis, and we approached Garry and Bernard. A meeting was arranged soon after.

We put forward a suggestion that the club should be run as a business, and that first and foremost we should employ a person to manage the club. Their responsibilities should be to organise coaching sessions, promote the club via social media (and whatever other means), look after the maintenance and build it back up to where it was before and beyond.

I would then create an online membership system to take care of payments, renewals, and communications. We would build a new website, have a proper contact email address, Facebook, Twitter etc. All in a drive to attract new members whilst trying to engage with all.

Bernard was the club treasurer, so we also needed to replace his role and responsibilities with new blood. Someone who would embrace the new technologies and make the best of them.

And finally, we would form a new committee who would get together once a month to strategize, plan and make the important decisions.

It felt easy to write all of that just now, but be very assured that whilst I can confidently say that we have just about achieved all of the above, the road has been long, difficult and not without its false starts.

So where are we now? Let me tell you……….

Monday afternoons are booked out by the U3A, a charity which provides opportunities for people who no longer work to have some fun.

On Monday nights, our brilliant resident coach Usman Umar (with the help of some very kind volunteers) runs a coaching session for people all ages and abilities. As of September 2022, these sessions are proving to be very popular and busy. The people who attend really enjoy themselves and attend regularly.

Tuesday and Thursday mornings are our ‘Bat and Chat’ sessions which are proving to be our most popular sessions and Friday night is club night which is also extremely well attended.

Several months ago we appointed Richard Shaw as our club manager. I cannot tell you how much of a difference Richard has made. He has taken the bull by the horns and not only taken on the day-to-day responsibilities of running the club, but he has brought with him his imagination. Richard’s creative use of social media has resulted in many new members joining and attending the coaching sessions. If not for Richard, I fear we would not be in a good place right now. If you do bump into Richard, please make sure to thank him.

Our online membership system is essential for us to keep track of status and payments. We now have the luxury of being able to take both direct debit, and one off card payments. It is also used for notices and email updates. With the click of a button, we can email all our members.

We are also very lucky to have Paul Smithson on board to look after the money side of things. Paul is incredibly thorough, professional and has a keen eye for detail. Paul very kindly agreed to join the committee and whilst he does not play Table Tennis, his ideas and input are invaluable.

The hall has been hired out several times in recent months, and at the back end of the year (and early 2023), Table Tennis England are using it for Junior British League.

Usman is hoping to resurrect what was a very successful Sunday afternoon session aimed at attracting some of the very best youngsters from the region. What made these sessions unique was that some of the older more experiences players came along to help out, which also benefited them as well as the youngsters, so watch this space.

Membership is almost back to where it was pre-pandemic and is increasing, coaching sessions are well attended, the website is fresh and current, social media is working and we even have a couple of promotional videos on YouTube.

But most importantly of all, people are using the club and enjoying playing Table Tennis again, which is lovely to see.

Garry and Bernard were there from the very start. The helped secure the funding from the National Lottery to build the centre and have worked voluntarily for almost 30 years to keep it going. It is because of them that so many of you have enjoyed the club and its facilities for so many years and will do for years to come.

As they prepare to hand over the reins, I’m sure that those of you reading this would like to join my in offering our sincere gratitude for everything they have done and wish them all the very best.

Finally, as a new Table Tennis season approaches, lets hope you all do well and continue to enjoy the sport.


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