Chapel Allerton Tennis Club and entire Yorkshire leisure sector lays empty and faces uncertain month

It would have been a lovely weekend for racquet sports.

By Nick Westby
Sunday, 8th November 2020, 4:45 pm
Covid stops play: Eddy Stallworthy walks the empty courts of Chapel Allerton Lawn Tennis and Squash Club. (Picture: James Hardisty)
Covid stops play: Eddy Stallworthy walks the empty courts of Chapel Allerton Lawn Tennis and Squash Club. (Picture: James Hardisty)

A spot of tennis in the crisp, autumnal sunshine on Saturday, the lower bounce of the ball merely adding to the challenge.

Watch the kids get coached in the morning, then maybe a recreational game of doubles before the sun goes down.

Then Sunday, with the mist failing to lift, head inside for a 40-minute game squash and get those legs moving again.

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First weekend of the second National Lockdown in the UK due to the ongoing Coronavirus Pandemic. Pictured An empty Chapel Allerton, Lawn Tennis, Squash and Gym Club, Wensley Avenue, Leeds, one of hundreds of clubs forced to close due to this national restrictions. (Picture: James Hardisty)

After all that, off to the bar for a variety of refreshments.

Customarily, this would have been the scene at Chapel Allerton Lawn Tennis and Squash Club this weekend, and at racquet clubs across the county, from Ilkley to Hallamshire; Abbeydale to Huddersfield.

Alas, it was not to be, as England reacquainted itself once again with the desolation of lockdown.

Instead of being a hive of activity, of members and visitors playing and socialising, Chapel Allerton’s doors were locked and Saturday’s sun went unrewarded, and the Sunday rain fell on empty courts.

First weekend of the second National Lockdown in the UK due to the ongoing Coronavirus Pandemic. Pictured An empty Chapel Allerton, Lawn Tennis, Squash and Gym Club, Wensley Avenue, Leeds, one of hundreds of clubs forced to close due to this national restrictions. (Picture: James Hardisty)

“Usually we’ve got block bookings on the indoor courts and the whole place would be full on a Saturday,” explained Chapel Allerton’s club manager Eddy Stallworthy.

“Saturday mornings are busy from a junior coaching perspective across both tennis and squash. You’d have your Saturday regulars in the bar as well.

“Sundays can be quieter, but people come for the social aspect. We have tennis and squash club games on, racquetball doubles as well.

“But that’s all non-existent now.”

And so clubs and leisure facilities across Yorkshire and England are closed once again, a grim November lying ahead for those who have bills to pay.

It is a reality all are facing, but as a microcosm, the bare facts underline just what the sector is faced with as Government once again shuts down recreational leisure in an attempt to stem the spread of Covid-19.

Prior to lockdown, Chapel Allerton had 1,450 members across tennis, squash and the gymnasium.

For racquet sports alone, they catered for those numbers with three indoor courts, nine outdoor tennis courts, and a further four grass courts during the summer. There is also a handful of squash courts inside.

But the coronavirus pandemic has hit membership hard.

“We’re on about 1,000 now, but have lost a lot,” continued Stallworthy. “It’s been tough.

“I get it, I understand it from members.

“A lot of members have stood by us which is nice, even now going back into lockdown we’ve had nice messages to wish us the best.

“But it’s all a bit strange this time around.

“Before we had no real preparation and there was no end-date in sight, whereas this time there is an end-date, but it is unclear how true that end-date will be.”

And therein lies one of the big dilemmas. If the second lockdown works England will start returning to normal on December 2, but there is nothing to say yet whether it will be a phased return to normality by reintroducing the tier system, a complete return or just an extension of current protocols into the new year.

Chapel Allerton were planning on using the job support scheme with Leeds going into tier three late last month, but the extension of the furlough scheme to the end of March has allowed them to place the majority of their staff onto that.

“There’s not really much work for them when we’re shut,” conceded Stallworthy.

“I was hopeful we’d be back in business by December, but then they extended the furlough scheme which is usually a bit of a clue as to what’s going on.

“It’s all a bit of a guess. It depends if they go back to the tier system. Looking at the figures it was showing that it was starting to be effective.

“Outdoor tennis will come back first, I think they’re still debating that in parliament, then take the rest from there.”

There are a lot of questions to be answered, a lot of uncertainty.

Until then, proud, community-serving facilities like Chapel Allerton and the scores across Yorkshire, will sadly, sit idle.

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