After the darkest winter in recent memory, spring has arrived with blossom on the trees and the country now having the freedom to play outdoor sport again. Isaac Seelochan speaks to the sports club chairman, secretary and those who are delighted that their daily exercise is no longer just walking and jogging.
Most local sports clubs across the country would have been fearing for their future when lockdown first struck Britain in March last year.
Despite being given a temporary rest bite last summer, they soon had to close their doors again during a second national lockdown in November.
This was followed by a third at the start of the year which many believed to be the worst yet.
But after the dreary winter months of January and February, the country is outside again and enjoying the smell of freshly mowed grass and the thunderous sounds of an ace.
Any club without its members cannot survive so those in charge are understandably pleased to be back.
“We’re absolutely delighted because we know how much people want to play,” says Chris Clift, chairman of Chilwell Tennis Club who were voted club of the year by LTA Nottinghamshire for 2020.
“Obviously we can only have up to six people but if we find that it gets booked up then we have another six who play later on.”
The clubs enforced closures over the past year have given them time to upgrade to all-weather courts.
They will now be open beyond the spring and summer months after years of attempting to improve the club.
The 67-year-old added: “We managed to get funding from Sport England, Nottinghamshire County Council and the Chilwell Memorial Institute have pitched in as well.
“The dream has virtually become a reality.”
Whilst many will be eagerly returning to the clubs they have missed; some are taking part for the first time.
Denise Preet, 58, recently had her very first experience of Chilwell Tennis Club and is thrilled that the lifting of restrictions allows her to play the sport she loves on a brand-new surface.
“My friend has been a member for a few years, and she told me we ought to come down and have a look at the new surface because we like to play,” she said.
“The surface is innovative and with my knees being of an older age I will hopefully be able to play for longer.”
Nottingham Croquet Club are also enjoying being back as club secretary Ellen Gee explains.
She said: “We were well and truly ready to open again because a lot of our members have been stuck at home, so it was nice for them to come back and play.
“Membership has been static since we reopened which is good as some clubs have lost a lot of members because people are having to shield.
“We’re also having three open days this year as our first one was invitation-only due to us having to facilitate a reduced lawn capacity because of covid restrictions.”
The club held a junior day for school children during the Easter holidays with one of those in attendance being eight-year-old, Tilly Hallam, who enjoys the social side of croquet as well as playing several other sports.
“I enjoy that I can see friends as well as playing,” she says.
“I also do swimming and hockey.”
The lifting of restrictions has arrived at the perfect time for Adam Plumbley, chairperson of Beeston & Toton Sycamore Cricket Club, as preparations for their season get underway.
The 32-year-old research librarian began his tenure when they were struggling for volunteers and players after suffering several relegations on the bounce.
Several players were tired of the negativity at the club and started holding secret pub meetings before Adam and several others took over from the previous long-standing board in 2019.
They were one of the few clubs last summer who met the necessary criteria to play on public land under Covid restrictions and Adam is pleased that remains the case.
He said: “It was relief in the fact that we know we’re going to get a season and I think it was key that you’re allowed to go and do sport before you can go to somewhere like the pub.
“The big thing about cricket is that it is a very social sport in terms of the time that you get to spend with a wide group of people who you wouldn’t necessarily meet anywhere else, as well as the idea of being able to go outside and enjoy the summer days that we’re hopefully going to get.”
The club has worked hard like most to ensure that they can re-open with several safety steps needing to be considered before opening their doors again.
“We’ve had to do quite a lot of covid based risk assessments including all the steps that we’re taking to reduce transmission,” Adam says.
“We have a set of guidelines from the ECB (the England and Wales Cricket Board) including that we’re only allowed to practice in groups of six and if we are at games, we need to have breaks every six overs to make sure everyone’s washing their hands.
“A few players who are more vulnerable chose not to play last year but many have come back recently because of the vaccine rollout and their confidence in the procurations we’ve taken, which I think demonstrates the positive work we’ve done.”
The one clear message from everyone is the welcome return of the social side of sport which has been sorely missed over the past year.
Normality in everyday life may still be some way off but the return of outdoor sport signals the road towards it.
Click here to find out more about Chilwell Tennis Club.
Those interested in joining Nottingham Croquet Club should contact them here.
Email firstname.lastname@example.org if you are interested in joining Beeston & Toton Cricket Club.