Brighton Table Tennis Club

December 7, 2017

 

Founding Director, Tim Holtam

 

Photos by Adam Bronkhorst

 

 

“I always wanted to be a teacher but I didn’t know this was going to happen,” explains Tim Holtam, founding director of the Brighton Table Tennis Club. “We started small with one evening a week for local kids at the Brighton Youth Centre and we kept going. We realised that there was potential to do more and that you could use table tennis as a tool for social action.” Now, more than 400 people access the club each week. As well as hundreds of local kids, there are sessions for the over 50s, for adults with learning disabilities, for people who are street homeless, for children from the Traveller community, for looked-after children, for unaccompanied child migrants and refugees... the list goes on. “Everyone involved in the club benefits from these projects. They are all about integration, building a strong community and about everyone playing together.”


Their latest collaboration is with High Down Prison and Downview Women’s Prison. “It’s the perfect model for engagement. We’ll go in and run level one coaching courses, then we can start bussing in some over 50s and disabled youngsters to be taught by the prisoners. It’s going to be so good.”

 

He and co-founder Harry McCarney both played at an elite level as teenagers and their sporting ambitions are just as keenly pursued as their social agenda. Anyone who shows potential quickly moves up the ranks. “Now we’ve got so many people playing at a participatory level that we can employ our coach Pedro full-time to work solely with our elites; a group of local players who have been training for over five years and are now ranked in the top 20 in England for their age. We’re in a position that no other table tennis club is in. Sport England and Comic Relief fund specific projects for looked-after children, marginalised women, women leaving prison, the homeless and refugees. We got to go to parliament to speak to Lord Dubs about refugee policy and our work here, and last week we were in Portugal watching the World Down’s Syndrome Championships [where club coach Harry Fairchild won a medal]. I’ve got an insight into all these different areas and we’re celebrating what everyone is able to do.”

 

He attributes their success to the accessibility of the sport. “Of any activity, table tennis has the lowest barriers to entry. It’s really cheap to set up, it’s space efficient, and anyone can play. Ping pong tables draw people to them. When you’re standing at the other end you can have a conversation, it’s almost like having a dance. There are sessions in here where you’ve got six-year-olds playing with 90-year-olds. We get professional players from abroad – people from more than 60 nationalities play here. There’s something for everyone and we’re open from 10am to 10pm seven days a week.”

 

 

With so much going on, I wonder if it gets a little unruly but Tim struggles to recall any trouble. “There aren’t any rules on the walls. The only rule is ‘try’. The best form of behaviour management isn’t laying down the law. It’s getting kids engaged… as soon as they’ve been here a few months and they can play, they feel part of something. Then they can start helping and they have a purpose. It’s amazing, the results we see.“On a Tuesday we have Irish Travellers being coached by the sons and daughters of Brighton, Afghan and Sudanese refugees and a man with Down’s Syndrome. That’s ping pong Utopia from where I’m looking at it.”

 

36 Upper Bedford Street

brightontabletennisclub.co.uk

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