There are many sports clubs around the Ashford area which do a fantastic job quietly and with no fuss, providing ways for thousands of people, particularly children, to have fun and keep fit at the same time. One of the most effective at this is Wye Tennis Club.
Over the years I have helped Wye make successful applications for money from national bodies such as the Lawn Tennis Association, which distributes some of the huge profits from Wimbledon every year to help the game at the grass roots. I am always happy to support the applications because I can see the effects whenever I visit the club.
From playing on rather ragged courts and changing in a decrepit club house, in ten years there has been a complete transformation. There are more courts available in the most modern surfaces, and the clubhouse is entirely modernised. On Saturday I was there again to celebrate the conversion of two courts into clay courts, which are less wearing on the joints. This may prove a particular attraction for one of the clubs newest recruits, who recently celebrated his 80th birthday.
Most players are a little younger than that, and one of the great features of the Wye club is its commitment to coaching schoolchildren, and forming successful junior teams. Both the primary school, Lady Joanna Thornhill, and the secondary Wye Free School use the club facilities regularly, and as a result Wye is an unlikely centre of excellence in Kent tennis.
Much of this growth is a testament to the indefatigable determination and energy of Graham Sutherland, one of those types who are the backbone of voluntary organisations of all kinds. Graham never takes no for an answer, and as a result hundreds of people in and around Wye can enjoy tennis at a level which is often difficult to find outside cities. I am full of admiration.
His next project is to extend this privilege to a wider range of people in the Ashford area. This is proving a long and difficult plan to bring to fruition, and the Sports Minister Tracey Crouch and Sport England have been on the end of some quite insistent lobbying about why Ashford is too big not to have a decent indoor tennis centre. Given the determination that has led to massive improvements in Wye, I am confident that in the end this bigger project will also succeed.