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Educating stuff: the summer lull

The last of the benches are varnished ahead of The Championships.
by Ben Swann
Thursday 6 June 2013

The latest 'Educating stuff,' news and views from Wimbledon's Education Department, explains why the summer is a time for sedate pace...

It is the annual ‘get out’ for the Education Department.  Normally we are holed up in the Education Suites (as we call them) which encircle the Eastern side of No.1 Court.  These rooms are used as hospitality suites for The Championships so once a year we pack up our workshops, stuff the department into crates and send it off site where it will sit dormant until a quite day in August when silently, it will rise again.  This does not mean the end of our activities though, far from it. The British public are just beginning to yawn and stretch as they turn off their televisions, wake up their summer heads and drowsily move away from the seemingly endless European football season. Finding themselves without a back page to rant about, they return once more, like migrating swallows, to the more elegantly dressed summer sports of cricket and of course tennis; especially tennis on grass, which draws them in with an irresistible force.  This means that our phone rings red hot with enquiries for visits to the grounds, but unfortunately a large, immoveable object, gets in the way of visits at tennis prime time; The Championships .

So here I sit, like a tennis player on tour (albeit a long forgotten, quite past it player) living out of a bag, fielding calls to visit a department that for the duration of British tennis prime time exists only as a shadow of its true self, a proud and noble shadow we all agree, but a shadow none the less.

One of the alternatives we do offer is outreach, if you can’t come to Wimbledon, the Education Department can bring a small piece of it to you.  One recent example of outreach was a truly joyful experience in the company of students from Perseid school.  Perseid School is a school for learners with severe and profound learning difficulties based in Merton and the Education Department had the privilege of spending an afternoon with their year 4 classes.  During the time spent at Perseid School the students had the chance to explore some of the more bizarre objects from the handling collection, like a Victorian ladies hip enhancer (which is as just as glorious as it sounds), dress in some vintage tennis apparel and then head over to their red tennis court and try to hit with a variety of different styles of rackets and balls. 

In all my time spent watching tennis and working with students I have never seen anyone gain so much joy from hitting a ball with a racket as I witnessed at Perseid School and it wasn’t all for nought either, as some of the students could hit with the same power and accuracy as Pete Sampras in his prime.  There is a quote in our museum that states (and please forgive my paraphrasing here), that tennis when played well is never more beautiful than when played on grass.  Well, whilst I agree with this statement, at Perseid School I witnessed tennis played ‘enthusiastically’ on a dirty red court and I found that it can be just as beautiful there.

The sun is out at last, the players are in Northern Europe and soon the walls of SW19 will echo to the sound of racket against ball and the gentle murmur of an umpire calling the score will reassure us all that tennis is back in its rightful place once more.  Whilst the Education Department might be forced to slow down during the Wimbledon fortnight, watch a bit of tennis and take a slightly less manic approach to the summer sporting season, like the average British sports fan after the football season, we are still operating, but at a more sedate pace. 

If you would like to find out more about our educational programmes including our outreach sessions then please visit the Education section of the website.


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