Plan to bring back the glory days is ready to roll out
By JAMES ROBERTS – Squash Mad Columnist
There is no doubt that Covid-19 has proven a huge challenge and frustration for the sport of squash at grass-roots level up and down the UK, but there is no area where this more keenly felt than in the County of Staffordshire.
Known as the ‘Creative County’, Staffordshire is located just to the north of the Birmingham/Black Country city region, extending as far north as Stoke on Trent and parts of the Peak District. It is a large and very diverse county, famous in particular for the Potteries, brewing, theme parks and the Bull Terrier!
It is also where I call home as late last year, I moved back to Staffordshire from Northants to Lichfield, the city where I grew up in the south of the county. As a result, I have been keeping in close touch with the development of squash across the county, in particular through the formation of a new County Association, Staffordshire Squash, something which had been sadly lacking for many years.
Things were shaping up quite nicely during 2019 as the new Association formed under the careful stewardship of Chris Dawson, a Level 3 coach originally from Scotland who had settled in the area and is based at Tettenhall College, Wolverhampton.
A committee of enthusiastic volunteers from clubs across the county had formed and plans were in put in place for a relaunch of the game to ‘bring the sport back to its former glory days’, this being the bold ambition forming the headline of a new County Squash and Racketball Strategy.
The county emblem is the Staffordshire Knot and the Association had designed a new squash version of this as its logo. This now sits proudly on the new website and social media channels, with the Association standing ready to act as the ‘tie that binds Staffordshire Squash and Racketball’.
Then, as we all know, Covid-19 hit last March, which forced the Association to put its well-made plans on ice. There was a brief glimmer of light over the summer and early autumn as some squash play gradually returned, but then Lockdown 2 happened and the courts have all been off limits since.
However, the prospect of a second gradual return to play from tomorrow (Monday 12th April), against the backdrop of low infection rates and the accelerating vaccine rollout, provides Staffordshire Squash with a renewed sense of purpose and optimism that it can finally start delivering its ambitious plans to develop the sports of squash and racketball through supporting the county’s clubs and venues.
I caught up with Chris ahead of tomorrow’s return to play and he has provided the following summary statement:
“Staffordshire Squash hadn’t had a county set-up until I agreed to lead the association back in 2019. Essentially, we had to start from scratch. There is no doubt that Covid-19 has had a devastating impact up and down the country. Challenges, however, frequently fuel progress and here in Staffordshire, we have used this time to develop our infrastructure as a county association.
“England Squash has been instrumental in helping us realise both where we needed to go, and what we needed to do, as a county association. Their County Manager Programme course, undertaken by myself and Burton Manor’s Shaun Watkin (their rackets lead) was hugely beneficial.
“Sharing information and ideas with different counties who already have sustainable set ups, enabled us to focus on where we needed to channel our efforts and ultimately helped us come up with a plan that works for Staffordshire. Having recently completed another online Zoom course, the England Squash Club Development Programme, means we can share what we have learnt and be there to offer advice.
“We know everything is still rather uncertain at the moment and some clubs will be reluctant to open until they know they will be able to remain open. Once they do, we will do our best to support them. Although courts may have been deserted, clubs have been working hard to adapt in the current climate and a great deal of time and energy has been put in ‘behind the scenes’ to get ready for reopening.
“Our county plan is an ambitious one; we know that. We also know that it is going to take a lot of hard work to get there. One of our key aims is to help clubs become sustainable and able to run their own programmes with their own coaches.
“We have an open offer to part-fund coaches through their England Squash Level 1 coaching qualification. The course can be done online and only takes five hours to complete. We hope that by having coaches in place at clubs, this will help kick-start the club’s own programmes, in turn encouraging membership and participation.
“As a county, we plan to run a county junior league and frequent academy coaching sessions for talented juniors, across different venues. Having these pathways in place will encourage juniors to play and progress, thus growing our next generation of players.
“Diversity and inclusion is a key focus of Staffordshire squash and we aim to make squash and racketball as accessible as possible, to ensure everyone can enjoy these sports. We have recently been in talks with England Squash about a new venture and hope to have some exciting news in the near future. Watch this space.
“We have a good mix of passionate people on the committee, who share a love of squash and racketball and all of whom want to see these sports thrive in the county.
“If you love squash or racketball and want to give something back to either sport, we are always looking for help. The more volunteers we have, the more we can grow both sports.”
More information is available on the county website: www.staffordshiresquash.co.uk
As far as my own club Lichfield is concerned, we are looking forward to playing our part in the county’s plan for a revival of squash and racketball in Staffordshire. Our activities take place at the courts based within one of our local high schools, King Edward VI School.
We have already worked closely with the school to allow play to resume last Summer and are looking to do the same again to get the courts back available again as soon as possible. This will however have to wait as the school is still closed for the Easter holidays but a meeting is now in the diary for when the Summer term starts.
We are then looking forward to forging an even closer partnership with the school to help develop squash and racketball across the city and the surrounding area.
Time to get back on court …
Pictures courtesy of Staffordshire Squash