Panathlon has joined with multiple partners to serve up inclusive tennis for adults with disabilities and special needs at Pocklington Tennis Club in East Yorkshire.

Twenty four residents from Sherbutt House for adults with learning disabilities have got involved in the tennis sessions and the programme has been such an instant smash hit that they are now taking part in Panathlon multisport competitions too.

The creation of the tennis project has been three years in the making due to Covid-19 delays. Panathlon initially joined with Val French, our “semi-retired” Events Manager and School Games Organiser for North Yorkshire, to develop a bespoke skills-based SEND tennis participation programme.

We delivered a successive pilot event at Islington Tennis Club in North London before the pandemic, then Val teamed up with Pocklington’s tennis coach Sean Evans to replicate it at their club near York.

Sean had never worked with SEND pupils before, so last summer he shadowed Val as she led a PE lesson with special needs pupils at nearby Applefields School. Val and Sean then delivered a very successful adapted tennis session with Applefields pupils at the tennis club.

Matt Elkington, Yorkshire LTA’s Disability Officer, and Fran Nichol from the North Yorkshire Inclusive School Sports Partnership, then helped Val and Sean plan an Inclusive Tennis Festival at Pocklington – but the Covid-19 lockdowns and restrictions intervened.

Thanks to support via funding and equipment from Panathlon, the LTA, East Riding Active Towns and Pocklington Rugby in the Community, the weekly sessions with Sherbutt House residents are now finally up and running. Several Pocklington club members have volunteered to help with the coaching. The sessions will run throughout the summer term.

Val said: “The hope is that an inclusive tennis session will be embedded in the club’s programme and will become self-funding with perhaps a membership scheme of some sort.

“I would like to thank Chris French our Chairman for supporting this and Sean who I know found it quite daunting at first. Together we’re embarking on a journey to provide ‘Tennis for All’ in a safe and welcoming environment and we become the flagship tennis club for disability tennis.

“I will continue to work with Sean, the club and our partners to develop this further so we embrace any young person and adult with special needs in our community to be the best they can be and enrich their lives in the process.”

In addition to the tennis programme, Val and her volunteers are leading inclusive multisport sessions at a local sports centre for the same group from Sherbutt House. Initial sessions saw the participants practise Panathlon activities before they then took part in their first ever Panathlon multisport competition (see below).