Hopes of an Olympic sporting legacy spreading to Birmingham have been boosted by £15,000 of funding for the city’s most high profile tennis club.
Handelsbanken has pledged the money over three years to Edgbaston Priory Club’s community programme, which offers tennis coaching in parks and schools across the city, as part of the £12.7 million redevelopment of the venue.
The home of the Aegon classic, which attracts some of the biggest names in women’s tennis every summer ahead of Wimbledon, has established Lordswood Tennis Club, in Edgbaston, which attracts more than 120 regulars a week, where the club is managing its courts with a view to making it a beacon for tennis in the city.
It has new programmes planned for Queen’s Park, in Harborne, and five refurbished courts at Cannon Hill Park, in Edgbaston, where children can get involved for as little as £1 a session.
Graham Crookson, corporate manager at Handelsbanken Birmingham, said: “We were very fortunate to take over the banking at Edgbaston Priory when they embarked on their development programme.
"During the discussion they said that once they had finished part one of the redevelopment of the club they would take more tennis to the community and that was a requirement from the Lawn Tennis Association.
“As part of our discussion we said to them that we would also make a contribution to their tennis programme.
‘‘Heather Watson and Laura Robson were at the Aegon Classic this year and it will continue to attract big names and I think it is going to get bigger.”
Club facilities, built in the mid-60s, were getting tired after 50 years and the redevelopment of the club is being funded through £5 million of investment from the Lawn Tennis Association and a £6.4 million loan from Handelsbanken.
The first phase saw the construction of a new sunken centre court with 1,000 permanent seats and the ability to rise to 2,500 with temporary seating, which will be ready for next June’s Classic.
The second phase will see the building of a new clubhouse, as well as a new six-court indoor tennis centre and squash courts.
The new facilities, which have been made possible by agreeing a new lease with Calthorpe Estates, which also provided additional land, will be state-of-the-art and make Edgbaston Priory the hub of the elite programme for developing young talent, as well as one of the best grass court clubs anywhere in the world.
Chief executive Robert Bray is very clear that while Edgbaston Priory is a private members’ club, it is open to everybody and committed to developing the sport and hopefully the next Tim Henman or Andy Murray, wherever they may come from.
Mr Bray added: “The support of Handelsbanken for our community tennis scheme is key to helping us achieve our vision of encouraging more young people to take up, enjoy and be inspired by the great sport of tennis.
“Handelsbanken’s sponsorship will enable us to fund vital equipment and coaches for the programme as well as helping us to spread the word in the local community to encourage more young people to take part.
“We intend to engage with Birmingham City Council and local schools to get more people playing. At the end of the day this is a community club that serves the surrounding areas like Edgbaston, Moseley, Harborne and Bournville.
‘‘If the redevelopment does attract new tournaments and helps grow the Aegon Classic then it means more money for the local economy and a boost for the city’s reputation for sport.’’