Imagining a great future for table tennis stars

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A TABLE tennis club based in Sunderland has relaunched as it seeks to inspire generations of enthusiasts.

The former Sunderland & District Table Tennis Club has rebranded as imagine Table Tennis Club, and aims to cater for all ages, genders, abilities and disabilities.

The club, which has been open for around 13 years and is based at the Sandhill Sports Centre, on Springwell Road, has big plans for the future.

Its chairman, Chris Blake, has developed a five-year plan called ‘Vision2020’, which sets out its aims for creating a legacy for the long-term future of table tennis, producing a new generation of players and providing pathways to competitive play in local leagues.

Mr Blake, who took over as chairman in the summer of 2014, said: “As the incoming chairman, I was given a good foundation on which to build, but for me there was just something missing.

“The club had no identity and it needed to feel more inspiring, imaginative, energetic and above all a fun place to be – after all, this will help to ensure players come back week after week.

“Since taking over as chairman, myself, the committee and its many volunteers have worked tirelessly quietly putting into place these positive changes, and this has helped to see the weekly attendance move from 20 to 70.

“Excellent feedback has been received about the sessions, the coaching and the overall feel of the club.

“A significant change has also been the rebranding of the club’s name to imagine.

“The reasoning behind the change was to give the club an identity, and to support future marketing campaigns to attract new members to the club.

“Members now wear their branded club shirts with pride, and there has been really positive feedback about our new club name and vision.”

Session are held on Fridays between 5.30pm and 9pm. Adults pay £4, while children under the age of 18 are charged just £1 to ensure access to the sport is affordable.

Mr Blake added: “We provide high-quality coaching and development, state-of-the-art equipment (including three electronic robots capable of firing the ball at 100mph with a variety of spins and programmed drills), structured play, fun games and innovative fitness sessions such as Aerobic Table Tennis.

“Established members of the club, who have significant County and British League experience, are actively encouraged to ‘pass it on’ and work closely with the younger players to support their ongoing development.

“The younger players, and the older players for that matter, are inspired by this, and it is fantastic to see the players improve week on week as a direct result, while the experienced players feel they are giving something back and personally contributing towards the club’s vision.”

Key partners and sponsors were invited to the official opening of the new club name ‘imagine’ on Friday, April 17 to witness first hand how their financial support and support in kind is helping to deliver vibrant and inspiring coaching and development sessions.

In a fun-packed evening, they witnessed an Aerobic Table Tennis session, structured coaching, fitness sessions, tested their skills against the table tennis robots and were treated to a table tennis exhibition by the club’s young emerging stars and a moving rendition of the song ‘imagine’ to mark the opening of this new vibrant club.

This included 11-year-old Joshua Weatherby, who recently represented England at the Primary School Internationals, where he performed excellently to win gold in the team event and bronze in the singles.

Mr Blake said: “All of the club’s partners and sponsors have been so supportive - we have had fantastic support from the Foundation of Light as part of the Premier League 4 Sport initiative, Tesco, Sunderland City Council, Gentoo, University of Sunderland and Tyne and Wear Sport.

“So the official launch provided a brilliant opportunity to say thank you and showcase the club in all its glory, and let them see first hand how their ongoing support is positively impacting on the club.”

The new name of the club is fitting when its overall aims are considered.

Mr Blake added: “I just want to encourage people to be active, no matter what their standard - sport for all and sport for life.

“Sport can be fun and life-changing, with positive benefits such as health and well-being, improved fitness, increased self-esteem and confidence and life-long friendships.

“The club’s attitude is that all players can achieve their dreams, whatever they may be.

“imagine Table Tennis Club has a strapline of ‘inspiring generations’, whether you are a total beginner or someone who has previously played but no longer does so, or an established player who wants to play to an elite standard, or even someone who just wants to volunteer and give something back.

“I am very excited about the future, and would urge readers to come along give it a go, have lots of fun and be inspired.

“Who knows, you could be the next table tennis champion – ‘imagine’ that!”

Those interested in reserving a free taster session can contact Mr Blake via email at imaginettc@gmail.com.