Tennis fever is sweeping the country and with Wimbledon well underway we took the opportunity to talk tennis with one of the Clubs in our county who are really working hard to open up tennis for its members and the local community, City of Peterborough Tennis Club.

Q&A with Gemma Stevenson - Player and Volunteer Coaching Assistant

Q&A with Bill Skead - Club Manager (Volunteer)

Resources and further information

Q&A with Gemma Stevenson - Player and Volunteer Coaching Assistant


How did you get into tennis?  Gemma_Stevenson


My first memory of tennis wasn’t actually on court - it was coming home from primary school during Wimbledon fortnight and sitting in the garden with mum watching the tennis on TV whilst eating  strawberries. Steffi Graf and Monica Seles are the first players I can remember watching and thinking I wanted to do that.

I played the pedestrian version of the game all through school and university for fun and as a bit of light relief from studying, but when I began working I didn’t play as much because life got in the way. Then after my car accident I was encouraged to try wheelchair tennis by a physio. I fell in love with it and now not only play at the Club but also compete in the Lawn Tennis Association’s (LTA) Wheelchair Tennis National Series. I now also travel the world, or I did pre-Covid times, reporting on the wheelchair tennis tour, including at all four Grand Slams.


What do you feel is the biggest misconception people have about playing the sport?


That it’s for ‘posh’ people. I am from a working class background and there’s been lots of things to help me get involved in the sport at all levels. My membership at the Club as a wheelchair tennis player costs me £5 a month for unlimited use of outdoor courts. The club has five sports chairs, and loads of rackets, that are there for anyone to use which means if you’re just starting out you can just turn up and you’ll be pretty much good to go.

Coaching has an extra cost of course but when you do want to go along that route organisations like the Dan Maskell Trust offer funding to help players with the cost of a tennis chair and coaching and I have been lucky enough to benefit from help from them. When I took my L1 Coaching Assistant qualification the LTA’s Coach Grant Scheme for disabled people helped me access that course too.

What sessions do you take part in at the Club?

The honest answer anything and everything I can - cardio tennis, group coaching, social doubles you name it, I’ll give it a go. I also have one to one coaching to help me get ready for tournaments. However, the greatest thing for me is not what I do on court, it’s how I’m included in all the Club’s social activities off court too. Going back to tennis has given me more than just opportunities to play and also report on the sport, it’s given me a community to be part of and a few memorable nights in the bar as well!

Can you describe what it is that City of Peterborough Tennis do that makes you feel included as a wheelchair tennis player?

Simply put; to the committee, coaches and other members I’m Gemma the tennis player - it doesn’t matter to them whether I’m hitting tennis balls on my feet or on my wheels. There’s always a line of communication there between me and the Club - they use my lived experience to try and improve things for other disabled people who might use the Club, whilst also understanding that everyone is an individual and what works for me may not work for another player when it comes to access.

On court my coach, Max, understands that working with a wheelchair player is a collaborative process. We are a strong team and there’s a trust and understanding there that we can be honest with each other so we can both reach our full potential as a coach and an athlete, whether that’s playing socially for fun or competitively.

During the January lockdown when there was the exemption for organised outdoor disability sport, the Club and Max offered to open up a court for me to continue playing twice a week more or less as soon as the guidelines from the LTA  had been released. We played in every kind of weather - including snow and ice at one point - and having that little bit of routine made such a huge difference to not just my physical but my mental health as well during that very strange time.

“Simply put; to the committee, coaches and other members I’m Gemma the tennis player - it doesn’t matter to them whether I’m hitting tennis balls on my feet or on my wheels.


What is your biggest achievement in tennis?

On court, definitely finishing runner-up at the BUCs (British University and Colleges) inaugural wheelchair tennis finals a few weeks ago. It marked a year of me and Max, the Head Coach at the Club, working together and showed me that the hard work we’ve been putting in was starting to pay off. Off court, being able to say I have reported from all four Grand Slams - there’s not many people who can say they’ve done that!

But for me it’s also about more than my own game and successes. I am very passionate about encouraging more disabled people to take up tennis and giving them opportunities to play. I really want to see the sport thrive in Cambridgeshire and at the minute there’s not many people who look like me that I know of playing in this county. Making a difference to this would eclipse all my own personal achievements on the court or off it.

“I am very passionate about encouraging more disabled people to take up tennis and giving them opportunities to play. I really want to see the sport thrive in Cambridgeshire and at the minute there’s not many people who look like me that I know of playing in this county.


What advice would you give to anyone watching Wimbledon who wants to try tennis?

Just do it. You don’t have to want to be the next potential Grand Slam winner to play and enjoy it. The sport is constantly being adapted so it can be more accessible for everyone to pick up a racket. For me playing tennis has not only given so many opportunities on court over the years, off court it’s given me friends for life and a feeling of being valued and included.

Finally, who is your favourite tennis player?

This is a hard one for me as there are so many I enjoy watching. I think for the fight they put up on court - Andy Murray and Alfie Hewett. For their ability to slice a backhand, especially on grass - Jordanne Whiley, Gordon Reid and Stefan Olsson and for being absolutely brilliant role models to so many - Andy Lapthorne, Kgothatso Montjane, Aniek Van Koot and Lucy Shuker. In fact, it was watching Lucy at the British Open one year that convinced me to get back to playing tennis after my car accident.

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Q&A with Bill Skead - Club Manager (Volunteer)


How did you get into tennis?


My parents both played tennis and helped run a large Club in Windsor and I spent much of my childhood playing (generally not tennis) at the Club. I was occasionally helpful but more often than not a nuisance!

At University I began taking the sport more seriously and have spent more and more time volunteering over the past 20 years and it is incredibly rewarding.

What do you feel is the biggest misconception people have about playing the sport?

That it’s expensive to play! Adult members at our Club pay less than £3.20 a week for free unlimited access to our outdoor courts and juniors less than £1 a week.

In your opinion what do you think has been yours or the Club’s biggest achievement over the years?

Definitely getting so many new people to play tennis. Since we relaunched our Club following the construction of two indoor courts in 2016 we’ve run 26 six week courses for over 200 adults new to tennis or getting back into the sport and have grown a junior programme of over 200 players, most of whom were new to tennis.

How important is inclusion to you and the Club?

Inclusion is very important as we want to take tennis to as wide an audience as possible. We try to offer activities for our members that are varied and where required organised by a coach. Most of our core activities are open to all, but we organise (including if necessary sourcing funding) specific activities for different user groups too.

A key thing for us is for our Club to be seen as an asset for the whole of our local community - although we could do with more courts to truly fulfil this ambition!

“Inclusion is very important as we want to take tennis to as wide an audience as possible. A key thing for us is for our Club to be seen as an asset for the whole of our local community


How have the Club managed to carry on being inclusive during Covid-19 and with the restrictions in place?


Coming out of the 2021 lockdown the first players allowed back on court were our wheelchair players - a small fraction of our total membership but it felt like a small victory for sport and tennis! The main thing was to understand what our members and users felt comfortable doing as well as following government guidance. 

What advice would you give to other Clubs and coaches when it comes to “opening up” tennis based on your own experiences?

The main thing is to talk to your prospective players and understand what they want. It’s also important to communicate with your whole membership about what you’re trying to achieve.

At our Club we want members and guests to enjoy tennis as a social as well as sporting experience - a fun way to keep fit and develop new skills

What advice would you give to anyone watching Wimbledon who wants to try tennis?

To get on court and play! But tennis can be a frustrating sport to learn at times so speak to your local Club or coach and maybe get some lessons to help get things started.

Finally, who is your favourite tennis player?

Roger Federer - he has an attacking game that’s brutal but graceful.

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Resources 

City of Peterborough Tennis Club - Club website

Cambridgeshire Tennis Association
 - the home of Cambridgeshire Tennis

Lawn Tennis Association - the National Governing Body for tennis in the UK

ClubMatters Return to Play  - short video about COPTC's adaptations during Covid restrictions

Dan Maskell Tennis Trust - charity supporting disabled people who play tennis 

Richard Darton Tennis Foundation charity focusing on improve the quality of life for children through playing tennis







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