When Church Road's historical experts calculated that 2011 would be the occasion of the Club's 125th Championships, the gauntlet for how best to celebrate such an occasion had Wimbledon's creative brains ruminating at length. There was the hosting of the Antiques Roadshow, the various pieces of commemorative memorabilia produced by Ralph Lauren, Slazenger and Lanson, and the four films produced by the BBC charting the history of The Championships in stages.
But the most innovative and creative exercise was contrived by the Wimbledon Museum's Education Department. They invited a group of 125 school children and local artists from The London Metro Blind Tennis Club, Granard Primary School, The Study Preparatory School, Ricards Lodge High School, King’s College School, Wimbledon College of Art and other local artists to design and decorate their very own Wimbledon-themed tennis racket.
Not the sort of ultra-tech weapon that the likes of Murray and Nadal wield today, no. A traditional wooden frame, with a long wooden handle - the type Fred Perry and Suzanne Lenglen used to win their Wimbledon titles.
With the creations ranging from giant strawberries to pictures of players, from giant flowers to a variety of different tennis balls, the rackets brought to life an extraordinary series of Wimbledon images.
One of the rackets was specially created for the Wimbledon Junior Tennis Initiative (WJTI), and was used by Tim Henman at the WJTI's annual clinic on Court 14 during The Championships. Painted by the Club painters in the official Club Pantone’s, strung by the official Club stringers (Apollo), a unique, bespoke 125 logo and gripped by Priority 1 stringers who look after the rackets of Federer, Murray, Tsonga and Soderling (among others), Henman, head coach Dan Bloxham and all the WJTI players signed the racket.
To celebrate the project, the Education department held an exhibition, '125 rackets in 125 minutes', in No.1 Court. Attended by 300 guests, the idea was to add a sense of symmetrical fun into viewing the rackets. "We had hoped the Gentleman's Singles final in 2011 would have last 125 minutes, but regrettably they took 149 minutes, mores the pity," joked the Education Department's Ben Swann.
At the end of the event, all artists were offered the chance to take it home with them - their slice of Wimbledon history - although some will remain on permanent display in the Museum.
"Everyone involved in this project loved it, from the primary school children who had never seen the grounds before (the AELTC was just a fence to them) to the local artists who remembered queuing up in the 1970s to see Bjorn Borg," Swann said. "We have some ideas for next Championships, which we are keeping secret for now, but we hope to expand on the success of this project and continue to work with the local community but on a larger scale and with more regularity."
The Wimbledon Museum's Education Department run a variety of workshops for school children of all ages.