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Community Table Tennis Club hit hard by lockdown have now come back fighting

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The club that helped launch Anna Hursey on the road to stardom is weathering the storms caused by the coronavirus pandemic – thanks to cash from the Be Active Wales Fund.

Cardiff City Community Table Tennis Club was hit hard by the lockdown, but like a flashing Hursey backhand they have come back fighting.

Now 14, Cardiff schoolgirl Hursey made headlines around the world when she became the youngest competitor at the 2018 Commonwealth Games in Australia at the age of just 11.

Her precocious skills had been honed by coach Nathan Thomas at the club in the capital, but the facility on Newport Road is far more than just a production line for elite talent.

Thomas – who also coached Wales’ 2016 Paralympic champion Rob Davies and ever present GB Paralympic player Paul Karabardak - plays a part in the community aspect of the club which caters for members from the age of four to the oldest at 87 and has established links with disability groups. 

But those 160 regular members were unable to visit their facility on Newport Road during lockdown, meaning income was running out fast.

“A lot of people come into our club and think we must be a Sport Wales facility or something funded by the local authority or Welsh Government, but we’re just a members’ club run as a charity that is self-funding,” says club trustee and secretary Emma Hetherton.

“Every penny that comes into this building is re-invested into the club itself and we are basically funded by own members’ subs.

“We had to close on March 24 and we were unable to open again until August 17. We asked our members if they would be happy to keep paying their membership fees and they agreed, but we obviously had no money coming in from non-membership fees of people who paid to play here and also the community groups who also used our café.”

The club turned to the Be Active Wales Fund and are grateful to both Welsh Government and the National Lottery for the grant that has helped them stay afloat.

The fund – administered by Sport Wales – is there to help sports clubs afford the basics to ensure their survival.

That money has enabled them to purchase forehead thermometers, hand sanitizer, signage for the newly created one-way system, plastic barriers between tables and new bats and table tennis balls at a time when income has been squeezed.

Another idea had been to adapt an outdoor area of the club to enable some tables to be moved outside, but that has been put on the back-burner whilst more funding is sought.

Internal changes mean the number of available tables has been reduced from 16 to a maximum of nine. 

The club – who have teams in Welsh leagues and across the UK – is home to a number of players in various Welsh squads, who took up the sport initially as a fitness and enjoyment activity.

As well as Hursey and Davies, numerous current and potential future Welsh champions are coached by Thomas.

“We have about a dozen players who are representing Wales at the moment at different levels and some of them head off to play all around the world,” says Emma.

“But all members, whatever level they’re playing at – and plenty come along for fun, exercise and for social interaction – have been really supportive about the changes and are just anxious to keep playing.

“In one sense, table tennis is a sport that lends itself quite naturally to social distancing because you have the natural barrier of the table between players.

“What, I think, everyone has missed, though, is the social aspect – so many people were desperate to get back here for the interaction with others, because table tennis, as well as having lots of other things going for it, can be a really sociable sport.”