“We want to take squash into the community and grow the game from the bottom up”
By JAMES ROBERTS – Squash Mad Correspondent
Squash United enjoyed a successful public launch at the 1 Year to Go event on Centenary Square in Birmingham city centre. The event to mark the fact that the Commonwealth Games would be starting in 365 days’ time was attended by an estimated 7,000 people, who had the opportunity to try out a multitude of sports that will feature as part of the Games, including squash.
The squash demonstration on July 28 attracted a lot of interest, taking place on two quarter-size Perspex squash courts, with the Squash United volunteers reporting that it was a “non-stop, action packed day”.
According to Squash United, Nick Thompson of Melior Sports “nailed the brief” given to him: to design a court that looked like a glass squash court, allowed a squash demo to be played, decal branding to be put on and taken off easily, and finally could be transported in a transit van and then put up (and taken down) in 60-90 minutes.
Top home nation professional players Joel Makin and Tesni Evans from Wales and Declan James and Millie Tomlinson from England really enjoyed getting on the mini courts with members of the public.
England Squash National Coach David Campion was pleasantly surprised how well the mini squash courts played and is now keen to roll them out across the country.
Squash United by Birmingham 2022 started with a few volunteers and coaches getting together during lockdown to discuss how they could reinvigorate squash after COVID19 and use the excitement of Birmingham 2022 to change the agenda for squash from survive to thrive.
Joint Leaders of the project are Ming Lee, formerly Chairman of Leamington Squash Club and Mike Harris, now Head Coach at Wolverhampton Lawn Tennis and Squash Club and affectionately known as ‘Mr Squash’.
Ming and Mike are ably assisted by a team of key members of the West Midlands squash community, including Mike Edwards (Head Coach at Edgbaston Priory), Chris Ryder (Head Coach at Solihull Arden), Chris Hall (Head Coach at Sutton Coldfield), Chris Tasker (Head Coach at West Warwicks) and Andy Murray of Iprosports Ltd.
On how Squash United came into being, Ming commented “We pitched our vision and proposals to key stakeholders, refined our plans and gathered support to make things happen.
“We’re starting a movement, so I’m delighted how the squash community has responded to our Squash United rally call. As a relatively small sport we have limited funding, but our passion is infinite.”
While its twin headline missions remain uppermost in Squash United’s minds, that of making squash a Birmingham 2022 games highlight and of growing the game ‘from the bottom up’ through taking it to the community, a series of other objectives have been devised to contribute to the overall mission:
• Provide more than 50,000 young people a squash experience through a series of community roadshows
• Develop a sustainable national schools squash programme
• Build outdoor squash courts in the West Midlands by the end of 2022
• Grow female squash participation and reach out to new communities
• Establish an annual West Midlands Festival of Squash
Ming added that ultimately their success will be judged by the following statement: “We want to have more people playing squash after Birmingham 2022 than before COVID19.”
In terms of the next immediate priorities for Squash United, there are going to be many Community Engagement Roadshows taking place across the region over the next year across a good spread of locations in the West Midlands region. These are the current known dates when the Mini Squash Court will be on its travels, with more dates and venues currently in the pipeline:
Sunday August 22: Gudwara Festival (Wolverhampton)
Saturday September 4: Eco Fest (Leamington Spa)
Sunday September 5: Godiva Festival (Coventry)
Saturday September 11: Solihull Fest (Solihull)
Friday September 17: Cannock Chase (Cannock)
Saturday September 18: Cannock Chase (Cannock)
Sunday September 19: Lichfield Community Games (Lichfield)
Ming added “We now need to create coordinated programmes at our clubs to welcome all the new people wanting to play. The PSA is going to help develop a website for us and coordinate social media.”
Outdoor squash courts have been the subject of a lot of discussion within the squash community lately due to the pandemic and the potential for increased visibility and accessibility for the sport.
Squash United is no exception to these thought processes and Ming added “I’ve looked at the different outdoor squash court around the world and really love the Squash Para Todos project in El Salvador.
“Carlos Schonenberg is an inspirational guy who’s doing some brilliant work and we plan to copy this with pride, albeit we plan to put a transparent roof on the courts so rain doesn’t constantly stop play.
“These courts are low cost and durable, which is perfect for deprived inner-city areas where access and awareness of squash is limited. It’s at an early stage, but we plan to raise funding to build three four-court configurations in Birmingham, Wolverhampton and Coventry.
“We’re also developing partnerships with local clubs and universities to establish programmes so the courts will be used and a squash culture embedded by local people for the community.
“The PSA Foundation and Rackets Cubed have been amazing with their support and we hope to announce more soon.”
Plans to develop a sustainable schools and juniors programme are now well advanced, particularly in Warwickshire, as Ming explains: “We’ve launched the Warwickshire Squash Stars Programme advertising the offer in primary school end of year newsletters and placing Facebook adverts focused at 30–60 year-olds within 6km of squash clubs in Warwickshire.
“In collaboration with Karakal, Iprosports, Kirkdale Buildings and Warwickshire Squash, we’re offering a racquet, safety glasses, ball, t-shirt, drawstring bag and four free lessons for £25.
“We hope that the price is accessible and have made the process user friendly with no more than two to three clicks to payment on Iprosports ecommerce club zone website.
“Hopefully kids who own their own kit will look and feel the part, making squash their sport, passion and obsession.
“Most Warwickshire clubs are signed up and Worcestershire is now starting a similar programme.
“We have also started discussions with the Off The Wall team and England Squash regarding developing a national schools programme incorporating best practice for all counties and clubs to follow.
“We think the mini courts, Squash Stars programme and learnings from Off The Wall will be key to promoting squash in a professional and consistent manner.”
Regarding plans for the Games themselves, the Squash United organisers want those coming to watch the squash competitions to bring their rackets and play at local squash clubs and socialise with club members.
There are also plans to coordinate programmes in squash clubs across the nation and Commonwealth so the squash community really feels part of the Games wherever they are in the world.
“After an amazing Commonwealth Games, we’ll invite people back to an annual West Midlands Festival of Squash, which will involve a graded tournament with beginners and elite athletes playing side by side,” said Ming.
“The Festival will also include coaching with ex-pros, social events and after-dinner speeches. It’s a twinkle in our eyes at the moment but Squash United will make it happen!”
You can find out more about Squash United by following their social media accounts:
Facebook group here
Squash 2022 on Twitter
Pictures courtesy of Ming Lee, Mike Harris, James Roberts, Squash Para Todos