Tennis club launches petition to stay in charge of Leamington courts

Claire Pomfret, who has run the VP Tennis Club in Victoria Park since 2012, is campaigning to keep the club operating there after Warwick District Council put the management of the courts out to tender

Tennis players are campaigning to keep the club they are members of in charge of the courts at a Leamington park.

Claire Pomfret has run VP Tennis at the courts in Victoria Park since 2012 from when it had no members to it being a thriving club today.

Claire has tried to get Warwick District Council (WDC) to have all of the ten ageing courts resurfaced over the years but this has faced some delays due to them being used as a site for the media centre as part of Victoria Park hosting the Birmingham 2022 Commonwealth Games bowls events this summer.

Members of the VP Tennis Club are at odds with Warwick District Council over the use and condition of the tennis courts, in Victoria Park. Photo by Mike Baker of MDB Photography.

In the petition, launched by Claire and the club on the Chaage.org website, she has said: “The agreement has always been that if VP Tennis increased participation, that WDC would provide the facility upgrades needed.

"However, so far VP Tennis has had to manage failed courts, delays in resurfacing, lockdowns due to Covid, a forced change in venue due to the Commonwealth Games and now uncertainty about the resurfacing in August 2022 despite it being less than two months away.

"All of this is outside of the club’s control. VP Tennis was willing to take all of this on and was still providing a full time coaching programme up until this week.

"However, now on top of all of the above, WDC have announced that there will a tender process four years before the current licence is due to end.”

The tender process is being based on an appraisal report made in 2021 and presented to the council’s cabinet.

Claire said: “Our main criticism of the report is that we are being judged against outcomes we were never asked to fulfil.

"We were asked to increase participation.

"Why are we therefore being judged by other financial markers retrospectively?

"If the goalposts have moved surely we deserve a chance to adapt before we are deemed to be failing?

“The report also states that all four {WDC – owned venues] – Victoria Park, St Nicholas Park in Warwick, Christchurch Gardens in Leamington and Abbey Fields in Kenilworth – do not need to be included in the tender.

"All four venues were voted to be included in December 2021 by [the council’s] cabinet.

"However, already Abbey Fields has been excluded.

"There is flexibility here.

“This petition asks that due to all of the above, WDC show some good will to the current operator and that, like Abbey Fields, the tender is delayed.

"In this case, that the tender process begins no earlier than June 2024 for Victoria Park.”

VP Tennis member Craig Walker and his 11-year-old son play and train regularly at the courts and has described the club and the coaching it provides as “first rate”.

He said: “For the past two years, everyone who has played at Victoria Park (both members and non-members) have had to put up with going from having ten available courts to there being just nine available. This is purely due to the council's decision to resurface just three courts.

"It's worth bearing in mind that the older five courts are only playable in completely dry conditions, which given the British weather, is only really during the summer months.

"As members, we all felt that resurfacing just three courts was an acceptable compromise on the proviso that after the Commonwealth Games all ten courts would be replaced and, crucially, Claire would continue to run Victoria Park tennis club.”

"Frustratingly, there haven't been any dates put forward for when the courts will be resurfaced after the Commonwealth Games.

"It really is a sad state of affairs that hosting an event for the Commonwealth Games results in many people not being able to play the sport they love.

"Losing the tennis facilities for an unknown amount of time doesn't exactly seem like a fitting sporting legacy for a games running under the motto 'Games for Everyone'. The decision to build the media centre on the tennis courts seems baffling anyway, given the amount of green space in the park.

“From my understanding, Warwick District Council are reneging on their agreements and are unfairly changing the criteria when assessing the success of the club.

“It concerns me that by putting the running of the tennis facilities at Victoria Park out to tender, we could well lose all of the positives that I, and many other members and non-members currently value.

"One of the intentions as stated on the consultation questionnaire which was issued by WDC last year was about increasing tennis participation and providing affordable and free options to play tennis. VP Tennis has provided these opportunities for years.

"We don't need new operators, we just need the courts to be resurfaced and Claire should be left to continue to build a successful community tennis club.”

On the tender process Cllr Liam Bartlett (Con, Warwick Aylesford), WDC’s portfolio holder for culture, tourism and leisure, has said: “This is obviously a discretionary service and is as much about growing users and the provision of tennis - improving the quality of the offering.

“We are operating at a deficit and there is an opportunity here to safeguard tennis for the future.

"We have an obligation here to create a sinking fund to look after the courts.

“A proper fit for purpose tender process allows us to benchmark where we are getting best value for money for our residents.”

To see the full petition visit https://bit.ly/3OEXFre