ON A dreich day in Drumchapel, the formerly dilapidated housing estate on the north side of Glasgow, Judy Murray yesterday highlighted the “back to the parks” approach which is helping to grow tennis in Scotland.
Braving the cold and the rain, Andy Murray’s mother, who was also his first coach, delighted in the news that the rundown courts in Drumchapel Park are to be rebuilt and have floodlights installed as part of Glasgow’s £1 million community tennis project.
The aim is to have people once again playing tennis in the local park, and Murray hopes that this pilot scheme will be copied across Scotland, helping to unearth the next generation of tennis players.
Murray got involved at Drumchapel thanks to a class full of seven and eight-year-olds at the local St Clare’s primary school.
She explained: “About two-and-half years ago I went to the school because a teacher in primary three emailed Tennis Scotland to ask me if Andy would come and visit them because her class were Andy Murray-mad.
“I said he could not come but I would come, and we set up tennis in the playground on a slope, and it was windy and the balls were flying all over the place, but we showed what you could do with a class full of kids in a playground to introduce them to tennis.
“The active schools co-ordinator for the area came along to help and watch what we were doing, and really it’s from there that we have started to see a whole community get behind our sport.”
Murray said that the Drumchapel project is “a very good model” for the rest of Scotland to follow.
She said: “In the last two years there’s been tennis in three local primary schools, linking to the local club, and now there are going to be four more courts with floodlights and anybody can drop in and play.
“This is not an area that you would typically associate with a sport like tennis but there is interest in tennis here, just as there is across the country.”
Murray and others involved in the Glasgow community tennis project know that they face a stiff task in trying to divert the local people away from football and computer games and onto a sport in which Scotland is currently punching well above its weight.
Murray said: “For a long time now, tennis has had that elitist image, that it is expensive and only certain people can play it.
“The LTA, the governing body of the sport in Britain, has been working hard over the last few years trying to put more investment into schools and into park sites.
“We have to make our sport more accessible and more affordable for more people, and the way to do that is to have local public facilities.
“Over the last 20 to 30 years we have lost a lot of clubs and we have lost a lot of courts in schools and parks, simply because they weren’t being used.
“Now that the interest is so high with people, particularly children, wanting to play, there just aren’t those places to play any more.
“It’s about stimulating an interest in the local community and councils to resurrect these park sites.”
Famously once described by Billy Connolly as “a desert wi’ windaes,” Greater Drumchapel has benefited from £500 million of regeneration even as its population has fallen from 50,000 to 13,200, according to local councillor Paul Carey.
Pointing out that playing on the refurbished courts in Glasgow will be free, and that there will be free coaching available as well, Cllr Carey said: “Football has always been the big thing in the west of Scotland, but tennis has always been there, and this project is going to put it centre stage.
“The cost between Drumchapel and Knightswood parks is £390,000 and, in Glasgow as a whole, it’s more than £1 million.”
Mike Cohen, Tennis Scotland’s west of Scotland development manager, said: “There has been a massive increase in the number of people wanting to play tennis, and we know about 50 per cent of them want to play tennis in the local park, so it makes sense to put investment into park sites.
“It’s about just coming down to the park to play, not having to speak to someone about joining a club, and then if people want to take it further there will be information for them.”
Drumchapel Tennis Club will be the beneficiary if people do want to join a club and play competitively.
Club secretary Michelle Watt said: “The club has been established for more than 100 years, and we hope that, by linking into this development, we will help to find potential stars of the future.
“This can be a blueprint for the future, and if one small club in the heart of Drumchapel can make a difference, why wouldn’t it be?”