A charity that helps disabled people play tennis is celebrating its 10th anniversary by pushing to expand its programme further.
Bright Ideas for Tennis was founded in 2013 by former Great Britain Davis Cup player Danny Sapsford with the aim of increasing grass-roots participation.
Sapsford works with tennis clubs to raise money to improve facilities and expand programmes, with more than £1million invested into the sport, but it is the charity’s I Play 30 scheme that has become its driving force.
Bright Ideas for Tennis pairs clubs across the country with local special educational needs and disability (SEND) schools and organisations to put on free sessions.
Sapsford told the PA news agency: “We’ve been growing steadily and the last couple of years we’ve been opening 30-35 venues every year and we’re hoping to do that for the next few years.
“My personality is someone who likes to please people and likes to be helpful so it’s quite heartwarming to see all the people we’ve given the opportunity to play tennis.
“I love going to the site visits to watch them. Quite often I’m driving three or four hours for a 45-minute session and in the car I’m thinking, ‘Oh my God, what am I doing this for’? But it’s worth it just to see the smiles on their faces, it’s lovely.
“Last year we did a survey, we had a couple of doctors from Cambridge University who helped us, and they were so excited with the results.
“It was proving that tennis was not just good for your physical health but it was good for your mental well-being and the parents were saying their kids are now becoming more accepted in schools and are making more friends, they’re more confident and less anxious, so all the attributes we were hoping to achieve, which was brilliant.”
Ariadne Katsoulis and Paul Valentine run coaching programmes at clubs in Banbury, Bicester and Brackley and work with two SEND schools through Bright Ideas for Tennis.
“That change in the children, it was incredible. They were excited to come, they wanted to play, and the improvement that they’ve made, I don’t have words.
“We give our time for free when we could have been earning money in other sessions but, seeing these children that have never had the possibility to do the sport – I was working with a blind child, and him achieving hitting the ball, and how he excited was, that’s the biggest reward that a tennis coach can wish for.”
They are hoping soon to add a third school and Valentine does not believe they would have been able to put on the sessions without Sapsford, saying: “It’s quite hard for us to take the lead on it.
“What Danny’s doing is creating a link between the coaches and the schools and that’s the big thing, then supporting us as we go through the programme. It’s a great organisation.”
Previously a one-man band, Sapsford now has a small team, while ambassadors include Tim Henman and Joe Salisbury, and he is hoping to increase the charity’s profile and budget to help introduce the sport to even more people.
It has been a decade of hard work, and the 54-year-old, who reached the third round of Wimbledon in 1999, said: “As with everything, it has its ups and downs and you have good days and bad days.
“I have weeks where every phone call I’m making I’m hitting a dead end and no one wants to help you but then you have other days where everything seems to fall in place.
“We’re at the stage now where we’ve got a really good infrastructure, we’ve built a really good reputation, lots of people want to work with us, so, if we did have a tiny little bit more money, we’d be able to do a lot more good.”