An innovative new tennis programme which has helped players with additional support needs to become more involved in the sport has received a national Tennis Scotland award.
Tennis Aces, which is based in Kirkintilloch Leisure Centre, attracts players from across East Dunbartonshire and North Lanarkshire.
The group has worked hard over the last 18 months in breaking down barriers for disabled people who want to master the game.
And in recognition of its efforts, the Tennis Aces programme won the 2016 Disability Programme of The Year award at Tennis Scotland’s annual awards at the Dunblane Hydro.
Allwyn Crawford, the head coach who has been involved since the programme’s inception, said: “We started a pilot programme in 2015 with seven players.
“The local area co-ordinator came along and said there was a lovely atmosphere.”
In the past two years the programme – which received funding from the Scottish Government’s Keys to Life initiative – has expanded greatly.
Now 30 adults, six juniors and six mini members all train regularly at Tennis Aces. Many of the players are on the autism spectrum.
Due to Allwyn’s extensive experience in coaching she was ideally placed to identify people who would benefit.
She also has links with Campsie View and Merkland special needs schools and works closely with East Dunbartonshire Council to open up access to other additional needs groups.
Allwyn, who has been playing tennis since she was seven and coaching for the past ten years, said: “We would like to thank Tennis Scotland for this fantastic award and for recognising our disability players for the valuable contribution they make.”
She also praised her team, saying: “They have supported Tennis Aces since day one and I couldn’t be surrounded by a nicer bunch of people.
“The team play a huge part in keeping this project together. There are always hurdles to cross and barriers to overcome but we are making a difference.”
Many of the players on the programme feel isolated and find it difficult to make friends or exercise on their own but tennis is a great sport for social involvement.
Allwyn said: “We have seen strong friendships form during regular sessions.
“These are achievements we couldn’t even have dreamed about last year.”
One of the greatest things players take away from the programme is increased confidence. Indeed, many players don’t think twice now about being taken out of their comfort zone.
“We give all our players time, patience and an understanding that they are no different to any of us here,” explained Allwyn.
“They respond well to this and support and encouragement helps make them feel accepted.
“I believe Tennis Aces is making a small ripple in the right direction and, hopefully, more coaches and clubs will start to lead the way on disability tennis.”
Tennis Aces was nominated for The Disability Programme of the Year Award by Tennis Scotland which has been supportive of the group’s many achievements.
George Birt, from East Dunbartonshire social work department, works closely with Allwyn.
He said the programme was a great way of helping people with a learning difficulty become more involved in sport.
He said: “The Tennis Aces programme was set up with grant aid from The Scottish Government.
“We worked closely with Allwyn to develop a training scheme and identify those who would benefit.
“Many people with a learning difficulty suffer from poor health because they are physically inactive.
“There is no need for that to be the case and our work will hopefully help to ensure against that happening.
“The award is a great way of honouring all the hard work done by Tennis Aces since it started.”
A number of other awards were presented on the night across a broad range of categories.
Pete Nicolson, Tennis Scotland interim CEO, said: “This is a simply wonderful time for tennis in Scotland and we have a fantastic opportunity to capitalise on the highest profile our sport has ever seen.
“All the award winners this year are clearly playing their part in different ways as everyone involved with tennis in Scotland drives our sport forward.“