Warrington Archives Podcast 5: Birchwood Tennis Centre
Philip Jeffs presents the latest episode in a new series of podcasts, looking at interesting finds from Warrington’s Archives.
Hello everybody and welcome to this, the fifth instalment of our Archives podcast looking at interesting articles from Warrington’s old newspapers.
This time, by way of a change, I have decided to look at something far more recent, the opening and development of Birchwood Tennis Centre.
The first mention we have of the tennis centre is in a 1978 brochure promoting “Birchwood Science Park, Today’s Environment for Tomorrow’s Technology”. One of the reasons this brochure gives for high tech businesses to relocate to Birchwood is the close proximity of brand new sports facilities, including the “multi million-pound sport and leisure centre now under construction at Birchwood”, which we are told will include tennis facilities. The brochure also mentions the 18 hole golf course directly connecting to the Science Park, due to open in Summer 1979 and the nearby water-skiing centre at Frodsham. All very aspirational for highflying young executives.
These initial tennis facilities on the site must have been the outdoor tennis courts, as it is not until 1987 that we have the Warrington Guardian reporting “Council Bids for Top Tennis Centre”. The article tells us how Warrington Council is teaming up with the New Town Corporation to put Birchwood forward as the location for the first centre to be built with funding from the Lawn Tennis Association and the Sports Council.
Next we have a flyer announcing the “New Indoor Tennis Centre at Birchwood: Coming Late 1987, early 1988”. A nice vague opening date there, allowing for building delays which is probably always a good idea.
The flyer goes on to state that Warrington Leisure Services Department is currently involved in an exciting new tennis development programme which will result in the opening of the Country’s first public indoor tennis centre at Birchwood. If the claim is correct, it seems amazing that Warrington had the first public indoor tennis centre, I suppose it might depend on what constitutes a “centre” of course rather a court, but still an amazing first.
The flyer goes on to state that in the run-up to the opening of the centre a series of events will be held at the outdoor courts, including the Cliff Richard Search for a Tennis Star Fun Day in August.
If we move forward to August of 1988 (obviously that wide opening date wasn’t quite wide enough) we find the Indoor Tennis Initiative News, reporting that the centre at Birchwood is due to open in September. They describe it as being “one of the UK’s most exciting new sports initiatives” and add the following:
“It is expected that the centre, with its four indoor tennis courts, social area and amenities, will stimulate greater participation in the sport, and assist naturally talented players to progress to the highest level. The centre will be available for club use, group coaching, individual coaching, and tournaments. But there will also be housewives’ courses, children’s sessions, businessmen’s courses, fancy dress tennis, veteran’s tennis and other activities.”
An interesting reference to Businessmen and housewives there, which seems a bit sexist for so recent a time as 1988. Fancy dress tennis sounds interesting, curious that they felt it would be a big enough part of the activities of the centre to mention in their promotion.
In the Warrington Guardian on 24th June 1988 we have an article titled “Glass Giant put £100’000 into Tennis Centre”. The article describes how Pilkington Glass have agreed to put £100’000 into the nearly finished centre over the next 5 years, to support the scheme after calculations showed that running costs would be likely to lose the Council around £37’000 a year and Warrington South MP Chris Butler condemned the scheme as a white elephant with soaring costs.
By the time of an article dated 23rd September 1988, the facility is about to open, and is now bearing the name of “The Pilkington Glass Tennis Centre, reflective no doubt of the sizable contribution towards running costs made by the company. New centre Manager Mark Griffiths said “Tennis still has a middle-class image. But the aim of a building like this is to break down those barriers and appeal to the man on the street”.
Despite any initial angst, the centre is a success, and references to all sorts of activities there can be found in the collections, but we will jump right forward to the next major development of the site in 1999. A massive £2million development of the site was undertaken with funds raised by Birchwood High School and through National Lottery funding, which saw refurbishment of the indoor and outdoor courts, an aerobics studio, gym, and large sports hall.
The new centre was officially opened by tennis ace Ilie Nastase with the Guardian reporting that the “former bad boy of tennis flew in from Poland to give his backing to new and improved facilities at Birchwood. The paper quotes him as telling crowds “This is a great centre, I wish we had one like it in Romania. Maybe Wimbledon should take a look at it, they’ve got really small dressing rooms”.
Hopefully you’ve enjoyed this step into more recent history with today’s podcast, I know that I have learned a lot about Birchwood Tennis Centre that I never knew, and I hope that you will join me again soon for another delve into Warrington’s historic newspapers.