Too late for some as players are told ‘courts close in two weeks’
By ALAN THATCHER, Squash Mad Editor
Angry, bitterly frustrated squash players across the UK have joined the campaign to save their courts after David Lloyd Clubs announced their imminent closure to make way for a new fitness fad.
The David Lloyd Club in Hampton, West London, has told members that two of the four courts will close on August 29 to make way for the new Blaze circuit.
Following the protests organised by the DL Gidea Park Club in Essex, Hampton squash players are taking similar actions, launching a petition and writing to the DL management. The DL club in Derby are also planning protests at proposed court closures.
One Derby member revealed: “The DL management chose to announce the closure to individuals by contacting them by phone. As you can imagine this caused a lot of anger and disbelief as the news rippled through to the members.”
The DL Gidea Park squash section has been given a six-month stay of execution. Management claim they will assess the possibility of providing alternative facilities to house the Blaze programme.
However, some members, angry at being given misleading and conflicting information by management in recent weeks, do not believe this. They feel that the DL management are simply taking that time to organise the necessary construction work to convert the courts to use for Blaze.
David Lloyd Clubs CEO Glenn Earlam claims that the decision to introduce the Blaze circuit is in response to fitness members demanding more group activities.
However, the possibility that most of the group’s 163 squash courts will disappear has angered the squash community as a whole. Hampton were given one month’s notice of closure. Players at other venues claim they were given as little as a fortnight’s warning.
Several leading professionals, led most vocally by three-times world champion Nick Matthew, have voiced their concerns on social media, and England Squash are understood to be in dialogue with DL management to oppose the planned closures.
Squash Mad understands that several DL Hampton squash members are planning to move to the neighbouring Richmond Town club, which used to be a London powerhouse but has seen membership dip in recent years. Other disillusioned DL Hampton members are understood to be moving to The Lensbury, Meadhurst and Colets clubs.
Former DL Hampton coach Mark Rodell posted: “Having worked as the squash pro at the club for 10 years, including pre sales and opening, the club has always had a thriving, vibrant and phenomenal squash community. To take these courts away would demonstrate a real lack of respect for the desires of the members and the members themselves, many of whom have been members a very long time.
“In these times, where acquiring new customers carries a greater cost than retaining them, DL need to think this through. In my estimation squash members and their families could be as much as 10% of their membership. That would be a big hit on churn rates and monthly income.
“Ok, let’s also look at the success of British squash players over the last 20-plus years versus tennis players. We have been a prominent force in the game with many world elite players from a smaller pool of players, unlike tennis. I don’t think that there is a world championship in Blaze.”
Julia Whitehead, who is co-ordinating the campaign to keep the Hampton courts open, received the following communication from Mia Manson-Bishop, the Member Experience Director at David Lloyd Clubs: “I do admire and appreciate your passion for the sport and I hope you will continue to enjoy playing squash at the club but we won’t be reviewing this decision to remove two of the four squash courts.
“We make development decisions based on the majority of our members and additionally, how we can maximise the space that is available to us to ensure we have as many members as possible participating in activities within our clubs. The Blaze studios have been overwhelmingly successful when launched at other clubs, and we believe it will also be a success with our Hampton members too.
“We have a number of clubs with two squash courts that have a thriving squash community and successfully participate in various squash leagues. The General Manager, Jason Hill is working with his team and the squash members to see how they can encourage and develop squash at the club.”
Helen Dredge wrote on the petition: “I have played squash for 40 years and still enjoy it more and have a better work out than any gym or fitness class. I have played many matches both club and county level at David Lloyd Hampton, and the courts and facilities are second to none.
“David Lloyd should engage with England Squash to improve accessibility to the sport at the club. If you sold squash as part of the gym membership and engaged with more families and children the courts and squash numbers would increase.
“Fitness fads will always come and go as I am sure ‘Blaze’ will. The percentage of people exercising outdoors is currently higher than indoor gym or classes, so invest in using your outdoor space and leave the courts for everyone to use.”
Mia Manson Bishop responded to comments on the petition, saying: “I have had a look at the comments that have been posted and do appreciate the disappointment this decision has caused for those members directly affected.
“At Hampton, participation in classes has increased significantly over the past few years and the addition of Blaze will help us in meeting the increasing demand from our members to participate in group exercise programmes.
“I am, again, very sorry that this change affects you and your fellow squash players. I am certain the development of our facilities to ensure we maximise all of the spaces we have available is the right thing to do.”
Picture courtesy of JULIA WHTEHEAD