The creation of the Dorset Table Tennis Centre was inspired by the remarkable growth in recent years of table tennis for young people in Dorset. Many influences have woven into a tapestry of threads with many people and organisations encouraging young players through the creation of playing conditions and opportunities tailored to their needs. This is our story.
Looking back ten years or so is where this story begins. The table tennis landscape in Dorset was then bleak, comprising of a few ‘traditional’ leagues with a predominance of adult players and indications of a gradual but steady decline. There were pockets of coaching provision, mainly, but not entirely, based in some of the larger clubs, and these produced a sufficient number of good players to make it possible for Dorset to take part in Junior inter-county competitions and other individual tournaments and events.
Several established clubs, such as Bournemouth Sports, Merton, New Milton and Ringwood amongst others, were even beginning to focus more on young players, and to these were added small new clubs with a preponderance of young members such as Townsend in Bournemouth and, a little later, Branksome Heath in Poole.
Steady progress ensued and some new and talented players began to emerge, until a significant step was taken by the Townsend Club in 2005/6 in offering structured after-school coaching to students at what was then called the Portchester School that changed its name in 2012 to Harewood College.
This was gradually developed into an evening club and opened to the community. It began attracting players of all ages, and was operating in parallel with the Townsend Club. In 2008 it was formally established as an ETTA affiliated Community Table Tennis Club. Then in 2009 it was administratively merged with the Townsend Club forming a compound known historically as the ‘Portchester-Townsend’ Community Club with around sixty members, and using both venues.
The Club had become a significant part of the local table tennis scene, with around a dozen teams playing in the new Poole and District Pairs League. It also hosted Dorset-wide tournaments, it had become a National Cadet League venue and had hosted English Schools Table Tennis events. Harewood (Portchester) School itself had become the most successful school in South West Regional tournaments. The stronger young players had become County representatives and several had progressed to playing in the Bournemouth League.
Then in 2010 a very important development took place. With a combination of local and ETTA funding being made available, two Community Coaches – James Lewis and Jo Kuzu – were appointed to part-time jobs, contracted to the ETTA. Their main brief was to foster table tennis development through Schools, Clubs and other community avenues. Their appointment was crucial to the creation of a network of contacts and connections across the table tennis community in the Poole/Bournemouth/Christchurch conurbation and over time extending to Weymouth, Cranborne and other parts of Dorset. Schools were visited to encourage the growth of the sport as a curricular and leisure activity, contacts were made with the University.
FLURRY OF ACTIVITY
A significant step was taken when an ETTA South-West Region Performance and Development Centre was established at Harewood (Portchester) College. This was supported by the South-West Regional Coach and the growing number of qualified local coaches. The Bournemouth League sponsored Saturday morning coaching sessions for young beginners and for adults. All of these activities were co-ordinated by the Community Coaches, who also worked with the compound Club to host and organise the Poole and District League fixtures at Harewood (Portchester). The progress achieved over the three years from 2010 to 2013 was remarkable. Participation increased, the standards of coaching, fitness and performance were constantly rising.
Harewood (Portchester) College became the true ‘centre’ of local table tennis in the eyes of many as it hosted County, Poole and Bournemouth Leagues, Schools and ETTA events on a regular basis. The Townsend venue became increasingly uneconomic and in 2011 became unavailable as a table tennis venue. The process of development of Harewood (Portchester) as a ‘Centre’ culminated in 2012 when the various activities were deemed to be component parts of the new ETTA-affiliated ‘Harewood Table Tennis Centre’, replacing the old compound club Club. The various parts continued to be run by separate agencies but were seen together to offer comprehensive and progressive provision for a wide range of ages and abilities, as well as clear pathways to excellence.
The other significant event that took place during this period was the building of the Roy Moore Sports Hall at Harewood (Portchester). It made possible the hosting of large events, using up to 24 tables, and thereby highlighted the progress made over the last three years in particular. Unfortunately it was not available to table tennis for regular weekday use, and therefore, when the opportunity arose to form a partnership with Grange School which would give our sport the option of exclusive access to a tailor-made high quality venue, the rationale for moving was irresistible.
MAKING IT HAPPEN
Making this happen has been a unique initiative by the director of Dorset Table Tennis Centre, James Lewis, fostering a vision of cooperation between clubs and coaches to provide the highest quality coaching to support the development and ambitions of young players.