Graeme’s story: Helping visually impaired tennis to thrive in the north east

Graeme’s story: Helping visually impaired tennis to thrive in the north east

Graeme Manwell (pictured above on the left) is the chairman of North East Visually Impaired Tennis Club. It’s a club that is thriving amid a surge in the popularity of tennis for people who are blind or partially sighted.

Despite his commitments as chair of the club, he is involved in several aspects beyond just its operation, from coaching to assisting in many other vital areas. Graeme is heavily involved in organising and delivering the annual visually impaired tennis tournament in the north east that form’s part of the Tennis Foundation’s series of regional tournaments and which set a new record for entries this year.

Graeme also drives players to other regional tournaments throughout the UK because many of the players cannot drive due to their impairment – including a mammoth trip to Brighton and back earlier this year. The amount of extra hours and dedication Graeme puts in volunteering for the club is truly extraordinary.

Graeme is a man highly respected in the area, but he doesn’t do it for that. He does this work because of the impact it has in giving people an opportunity within tennis.

“I’ve worked in tennis for about 25 years with my association through tennis clubs,” he explained.

“I’m fanatical about tennis, and I was very much interested in the disability side of our sport and finding out about visually impaired tennis.

“For a lot of the players, it gives them a reason to get out of the house. We’ve had quite a few members, completely blind players who really didn’t do a lot outside of their own home but getting into tennis showed them that they could be active.”

“They now get to travel around the country to compete, train and meet new people. It’s as much about the social side of it; as it is the tennis. Our sessions are more than tennis, it’s two hours of playing tennis and two hours of socialising afterwards.

“Through tennis we have been able to get other club functions going; things like ten pin bowling. It’s been a real social exercise for our visually impaired members.”

In light of all his hard work, Graeme was awarded the ‘Gordon Brewis Service to Tennis Award’ at the 2018 Northumberland LTA Awards. The award has been running since 2005 and this is the first time an individual connected with disability tennis has won the award, highlighting just how much work he does.

“I was incredibly proud of that recognition,” he beamed. “I knew Gordon Brewis personally, he was a great guy and so enthusiastic about tennis, that made this award so much more special.

“Just looking at some of the other names on the trophy who have won it, it’s been lovely to be associated in the same word of mouth that they have been. It’s a huge accolade and something I have been very proud of.

“It’s the North East Visually Impaired Tennis Club which have really won the award because as a large club in Newcastle we have been a talking point about how keen players are to get involved. The Northumberland Club also have very much welcomed us as part of their club which is quite unique to have a club which is supporting disability sport as well as they do.”

The work carried out by Graeme and his colleagues is supported by the Tennis Foundation, Great Britain’s leading tennis charity.

“Working with them has been absolutely fantastic,” he explained.

“Just seeing the tournaments for blind and visually impaired people popping up around the country and the passion that there is to take part in all these events is amazing.”

“Since the Tennis Foundation has come on board it’s come on leaps and bounds. There’s now a points system for visually impaired players and our players are travelling. They’ve competed in Brighton and London and they feel as if they’re playing a proper sport, at a proper level, which is fantastic for the sport.”