Merthyr Tydfil’s sporting heritage is rich and well-documented, but a new chapter is being written thanks to an innovative tie-up between the town’s college and Table Tennis Wales.
The famous sporting sons and daughters of the old industrial town – such as boxers Howards Winstone and Johnny Owen, judoka Natalie Powell, footballer Mark Pembridge and netballer Chelsea Lewis – could soon be joined by the next generation of table tennis internationals.
Alongside the creation of a high performance hub and a new table tennis academy based at Merthyr College, an inclusive community club has also been set up there for players of all ages and abilities.
Some of Wales’ best table tennis players began using Merthyr College’s dedicated coaching facility in the build-up to last summer’s Commonwealth Games.
But the community club – with its focus on providing more sporting opportunities in an area where they can be hard to come by – was launched on St. David’s Day. It has been the result of collaboration with other partners such as the Boys’ and Girls’ Clubs of Wales, Disability Sport Wales, Street Games and Active Merthyr.
It will be running weekly on a Wednesday evening, and will benefit from the coaching input of Callum Evans, Wales’ number one ranked male player.
Sport Wales’ 2022 School Sport Survey – which captured the views of children across Wales about what they like and don’t like about sport – found that there’s high demand for table tennis in Merthyr Tydfil County Borough. The survey results suggest that there are 1,700 children and young people in the county who would like more opportunities to play the sport.
Merthyr College, who already host a golf academy, hope that their table tennis academy will not only be a game-changer for young players, but also alter perceptions of the town itself.
“Parents who bring their children to visit this college tend to be impressed by the building,” says Simon Evans, director of data and performance.
“They will tell me they were expecting a run-down school in a deprived area, but remark that this is fantastic.
“It’s about overcoming that ingrained opinion of what Merthyr is about. That is the hardest hurdle we face. So, the high performance unit has helped change those perceptions and so will the academy.”