A league of their own
An Islington couple who started a local tennis league on Highbury Fields 11 years ago have watched it grow into a national business of hundreds of leagues across the country.
Local couple Sally Kinnes and Nigel Billen, former journalists, started the Highbury Fields league as a way for them to play tennis locally.
“The idea for a tennis league in a local park began as a way of improving our own game,” says Sally. “We set up the first, fledgling league on Highbury Fields in May 2005. It was really the chance for our friends and local people to find evenly matched opponents and to get involved in fun, friendly and competitive tennis.
“In 2014, it took off. Since then, many hundreds of people have taken part, made friends and improved their game. And now the league has turned into a living business.”
As of March 2018, there are nearly 200 leagues, with new ones being added all the time. The league concept is approved by and affiliated to the LTA, the governing body, and recognised by the Tennis Foundation, a charity set up by the LTA to promote grass-roots tennis. Local Tennis Leagues is registered as a Place to Play with the LTA and entered into a four-year partnership agreement with the LTA in 2015.
Nigel believes there are a number of important factors to the organisation’s success.
“Our leagues try to offer something different, our aim is to launch more leagues wherever there is a need, concentrating on public courts where finding opponents can be difficult.” he says. “We created a very modern and flexible model, which means that we can fit tennis into the busy schedules of our players. Allowing them to choose where they play and when they play means there is no rigid structure, our leagues make it easy for anyone to get involved.
“Our partnership with the LTA has also been hugely influential in growing the business. Becoming their official partner has meant our players really benefit from joining us, with free British Tennis membership and entry into our Wimbledon ballot for signing up, we’ve seen tennis as a sport come together to support this.”
Whilst Local Tennis Leagues is now a national service, players throughout Islington are still the organisation’s priority. Its head office is based in Horsell Road and the Islington Tennis Centre and Highbury Fields leagues are amongst the most popular in the country.
You can join the next round of the Islington Tennis Centre league via this link and the Highbury Fields league here, plus an all new Highbury and Highgate seniors league is starting soon, info for the league is available here.