Umar Ahmed plays a key role at the heart of a programme that is changing the face of tennis in Great Britain – the Tennis Foundation’s SERVES programme.
Umar is the National Projects Officer at Sporting Equals, one of a number of SERVES national partners who help the Tennis Foundation ensure the programme reaches all corners. Each of the national partners bring something different but they all contribute to the success.
For their part, Sporting Equals are an organisation that works to get ethnic minorities involved with sport, and thanks to the work of Umar and his colleagues with SERVES they are helping to make a real difference in tennis.
Taking tennis into the heart of the community and reaching new people is one of Tennis Foundation’s key aims and, through SERVES, this ambition is being fulfilled.
SERVES recruits people from the community to become ‘tennis activators’, training them to be able to run a fun SERVES session for their community themselves and providing pop-up courts and equipment to enable them to do so.
The goal is to see the sport played in diverse locations such as mosques, church halls and youth centres — giving young people the chance to pick up a racket and get involved. There are now 130 SERVES sites across the country, with 28 of these delivered through Sporting Equals.
“Changing the perceptions of tennis”
“Research which we have undertaken shows that there is an under-representation of ethnic minorities that don’t partake in any sport and physical activity, and that obviously has health implications,” explained Umar.
“Some of them just don’t take part, but for others there are certain barriers and reasons they don’t get involved in sport, and this restricts them.
“We work with regional sporting organisations and bodies to look for solutions on how to engage them effectively.” By doubling up, the Tennis Foundation and Sporting Equals both work together in order to make sure SERVES is successful nationwide.
Umar spoke of his enjoyment at working collaboratively in this way and the benefits that brings with it.
He declared: “The Tennis Foundation provide equipment, training and funding support to enable us to deliver the programme on their behalf.
“My job is to work with regional organisations and try and persuade them to get involved with the programme, and we’ve had good success with that.
“The key thing for us is that the Tennis Foundation’s programme is changing the perceptions of it and is taking tennis to places it’s never been before.”
“The SERVES programme is fantastic. I’ve never seen anything like it”
Adaptability, and the ability to deliver SERVES in a wide range of places, is a key part of the programme.
This flexibility also brings with it safety for the participants who, rather than having to find a setting, have the sessions brought to them in an environment they are comfortable with.
Umar continued: “If you come to any of our sites there’ll be a mosque or an Indian temple, which is quite a nice, cultural building on the outside and you look at it and think it looks just like a place of worship.
“You go inside, and then you’ll discover there will be a room there which has got a tennis court in it, that the Tennis Foundation will have provided. That’s what we really like with the project because it’s taking it to places that it’s never been and gets our participants active too.
“That’s one of the main things about the safe centre model. A lot of youngsters within certain communities have that extra religious education.
“When I was younger, I’d go to the mosques in the morning, then go to school, come home for a bit and then go to mosque, so I’d miss out on any sort of after-school activity or sport.
“Also, most after-school activities seem to take place at 5-7pm anyway, so that’s why this scheme does that.
The SERVES programme is fantastic. I’ve never seen anything like it, and I honestly believe its life-changing.”
Three of the Serves sites delivered through Sporting Equals have been shortlisted for an award at this weekend’s British Ethnic Diversity Sports Awards. The nominations are in recognition of the work they have done to engage ethnic minorities in tennis. To read more about the nominees click here.
To find out more about SERVES, click here.