The next step in the easing of coronavirus (Covid-19) restrictions will kick in on Monday 29 March. As part of our build up, we've spoken to a number of clubs and organisations about their experiences during lockdown and what they've learnt over the last year that'll help them to reopen.
Here, we talk to Jane Blackwell of Fulwood Lawn Tennis Club in Lancashire.
What has the last year been like for you, your teams and the people you support?
The past 12 months have been challenging for everyone, but there have been plenty of positives too.Read more
When we returned to tennis following the first lockdown, it coincided with the completion of our court resurfacing project and we’ve seen our membership rocket as a result.
We were very lucky as it felt like we had returned to a new club. Members were keen to get back playing and there was also plenty of interest from non-members from the local community – the place has been buzzing.
Reopening the club demanded a structured but flexible approach. We adapted to the changing situation of the pandemic and prioritised creating a safe venue for tennis.
We followed Lawn Tennis Association (LTA) guidance, which was communicated to members and visitors, and displayed social distancing and hygiene signage around the venue. We provided access to hand sanitiser and, while the clubhouse remained shut, changing rooms were open for washing facilities.
The use of technology has been invaluable. We used an online court booking system to aid social distancing and created WhatsApp groups for members to arrange games and connect with various tennis activities.
Our club coach has been in great demand, delivering high quality sessions to members. Lessons have been mainly one to one given the circumstances, but a large number of novice players were able to join group coaching sessions thanks to a grant from Sport England.
What has been the biggest challenge to your club through the coronavirus restrictions?
Our biggest challenge was ensuring members were still engaged with the club and would renew their memberships when it was uncertain when we’d be able to play again.Read more
Fortunately, we already had one WhatsApp group running for our social players and members used this to keep in touch through lockdown. They supported one another, particularly the older members living on their own.
In addition, we regularly emailed out updates about the court project, with photos and links to LTA ideas for tennis and exercise at home - we were lucky members had the new courts to look forward to.
Another major challenge was quickly adapting and putting new measures in place (such as the online court booking system, relevant signage/guidance, updates to our website) and ensuring this was quickly communicated to members and visitors.
Ironically, keeping up with the influx of new members and enquiries from casual players from the local community was very demanding.
How have you engaged and communicated with your members through the pandemic?
Throughout restrictions, we’ve regularly communicated with members and the community to keep them up to date and provide support.Read more
On reopening, we communicated LTA and government guidance and the new measures we were implementing to ensure a safe environment so players could feel confident and positive about returning to play.
Increased marketing raised our profile in the community and new member and visitor enquiries from the wider community exploded.
Communication and engagement with our members and visitors is key, and we pride ourselves on our friendly welcome and interaction with them as we get to know them and their tennis needs.
The club’s two main priorities are to answer enquiries promptly (from text, phone, email and direct messages through website) and to make sure their first contact experience with the club is positive from the start.
If there were any positives or opportunities emerging from what you’ve experienced over the past year, what do you think they are?
It's been an unusual year with plenty of highs and lows but, along with our new courts, the high has been a renewed interest and enthusiasm for tennis. Never more have we appreciated playing tennis, being part of a club, and all the benefits it brings.Read more
An attitude of shared and collective responsibility has now been fostered and members have been open, friendly and supportive towards one another, taking new members under their wing, including them in club activity, as well as taking a responsible attitude to club rules and government guidance. This created a cohesive, safe and inclusive environment.
I think the pandemic united and bonded members together even more – we all appreciated how lucky we were to be able to come to the club, play outdoors and enjoy some social interaction from a distance. Everyone was so supportive and friendly to one another and I hope this continues.
We’ve also used the opportunity of lockdown closures to make further improvements to the venue, such as decorating and repairs and making the club more attractive for members. It has also given us time to catch up with outstanding admin jobs and ensure policies are updated and in place.
We also sent out a membership survey.
What do you think your members' attitudes are to returning and how are you reassuring your members it’s safe to return to play?
Members are very keen to return to tennis as soon as permitted. This was also the case after previous lockdowns. They're confident the club is a safe environment with the right policies in place.Read more
As chair, I run a tight ship and, with the support of other volunteers, keep a finger on the pulse to make changes or act on issues if needed.
We also have a waiting list of non-members from the community keen to try tennis as soon as we reopen. We’re communicating with them to keep them updated and arrange games with volunteers.
How have you planned for the reopening after this lockdown and what are the key things you’ll have to do in order to reopen safely?
We’ve updated the notices around the venue and issued updated guidance for safe return to play to members.Read more
All the previous measures will remain in place, such as the online booking system, updated signage, social distance stickers and WhatsApp groups.
I have checked up to date guidance specifically for tennis with the LTA, our governing body, and have looked into issues such as numbers and whether we can play doubles.
Sanitiser and guidance is accessible for everyone coming to the club.
What did you learn from the reopening process you went through after the first lockdown in 2020?
Communication is key in reassuring your members that safety measures are in place and the club is following all the guidance. It’s also important they have the chance to talk about any concerns they might have.Read more
It’s also vital the club is firm and enforces the restrictions in place. I have learnt that, on occasion, people can get complacent or too near to others and you can’t be afraid to remind members of their responsibilities.
What funding or support have you received to help you through the lockdown and what difference has it made?
We've received government support grants for the lockdowns, which has helped us towards loss of income from membership subscriptions and hire of the clubhouse.Read more
We're fortunate that we could open for just over six months and had a lot of new members, but we also opted to discount membership by 20% to reflect periods we we closed.
Looking after our membership was a priority and we cut the cost to help membership retention.
As a gesture to members renewing for this season, starting on 1 April, we've discounted all renewals by 10% too.
What do you think the future holds for you, your teams and the people you support?
Following our recent club development and the positive effects of the pandemic, we hope to build on our success and look forward to a healthier future.Read more
It’s clear there is demand for tennis in the community and it's important we continue to be flexible, adapt to changing needs and provide wide ranging tennis activity to suit all, both socially and competitively for all ages.
This year has shown it can be done but long-term the future is still uncertain as previously tennis clubs had gone out of fashion and were competing with a vast choice of other activities.