Double honour for Hackney tennis stalwart
PUBLISHED: 12:10 12 November 2015
Sean Pollock Photographer
Jan Coombs has been honoured with two lifetime achievement awards for her contribution to tennis in the borough of Hackney.
Coombs, whose efforts were recognised at the Hackney Sports Awards and at the Middlesex LTA Awards held at the All England Club, has worked tirelessly to raise the standards of facilities and access to the sport since establishing Hackney Tennis Club 15 years ago.
The former PE teacher voluntarily set up Clissold Park Junior Tennis Club in 1999, and much has changed since.
Following government cuts, Coombs felt something needed to be done to prevent children missing out on recreational activities and now the club’s youngest player is just over three, with the eldest 83.
“We had about 13 or 14 kids, and within a year we’d grown to nearly 1,000,” the 68-year-old told the Gazette. “Luckily we were in the right place at the right time when the Lawn Tennis Association (LTA) were promoting their inner-city tennis initiative.
“Adults wanted to become involved off the back of success with the kids, then teams emerged in the Middlesex leagues. That was when we changed our name to Hackney Tennis, to encompass the adult programme.”
In the period between the club’s base moving from Mansion House into the new Clissold Park clubhouse last year, Coombs ensured the smooth running of classes from temporary accommodation provided by the council.
Hackney Tennis now has over 10,000 members, 21 courts and a thriving community who are able to book lessons and court time online.
“The new clubhouse is our legacy to the borough,” continued Coombs, whose daughter Chantal rose to number 400 in the women’s singles world rankings, having started at the club as a youngster.
“Tennis is not a cheap sport. Keeping court costs down in the 15 years is something I have always been determined to implement. It has only gone up from £5 to £6 so that’s something I’m equally proud of, and yet revenue has quadrupled.
“People now recognise the importance of sporting facilities that are available to kids. That’s my reward – not so much the awards I’ve received but seeing kids participating in sport, seeing several clubs now thriving in the area, and how other parts of the country believe they can achieve the same thing.
“Part of my motivation was to give the borough’s very best players a platform to fulfil their talent.
“Lauryn John-Baptiste started with us when she was three and now she’s nearing 18 and has played at Junior Wimbledon.
“We’ve had numerous kids get scholarships and we have two national champions in the club.
“‘All this shows what can be achieved if you work hard enough.”
If you are interested in joining Hackney Tennis, visit www.hackneytennis.co.uk