How a Birmingham school with no squash exposure grew to love the sport
This article is adapted from one that first appeared on England Squash.
There’s something of a squash revolution taking place in Birmingham.
After the success of squash at the Birmingham 2022 Commonwealth Games, squash has gone from strength to strength in and around the city.
While the most eye-catching example of this may have been the return to Birmingham of the spectacular British Open, which featured the world’s best players and concluded at the magnificent Rep Theatre on Sunday, the sport’s impact is also being felt at the grassroots level, perhaps nowhere more so than at Regents Park School in Birmingham.
Traditionally, the inner-city school never had access to the sport. But all that changed last year.
In the run-up to the Commonwealth Games, theatre company Untied Artists visited the primary school to teach them about the history of the sport. Learning about squash’s great heritage in Pakistan, the kids were instantly hooked, as many have families who originate from there.
Some of them went on to perform alongside the company – and former World No.1 James Willstrop – in a performance called Outside the Box, a celebration of the origins of squash, ahead of the Commonwealth Games.
Following Sport England funding to bring the game to new and diverse communities in the Birmingham area off the back of the Games, England Squash provided taster sessions at the school with their portable pop-up court, allowing pupils and staff to try squash for the first time.
The school also had the chance to play on a temporary all-glass court at Birmingham New Street Station as part of the Squash United legacy project to take squash to new audiences. The subsequent arrival of the Games only ignited the passion of the pupils and staff further.
Ever since Untied Artists got in touch, the kids have had a deep connection to the sport.
“It was one of those identity moments,” says PE Lead Nicole Folbigg. “The kids thought: ‘that’s like me, that’s like my family.’”
“We were just starting to think about the Commonwealth Games and how we could get involved and then when I looked into it a bit more, I saw that squash was an important sport in Pakistan and lots of our children are from there or have it in their heritage.
“We have got lots of children who are interested in playing moving forward. They love it.”
Some of them already are making it a part of their wider lives, playing squash at a local youth club. And the impact hasn’t just been limited to students – teachers have been playing with the kids on their lunch break.
At first, Untied Artists worked with just the Year 5 cohort, but Folbigg has striven to ensure that every single child has had a crack at the sport.
For two weeks last year, the school received further squash equipment from England Squash as part of the Sport England Birmingham 2022 Commonwealth Games legacy fund, which would help ensure everybody could share in the joys of the sport.
“I taught every child in the school squash – but I didn’t play it myself, so I had to learn!” adds Folbigg.
“It made the children realise that there are other sports they had not heard of before.”
“They loved it because it is linked to those basic ideas of play: hitting a ball against a wall, competing against somebody, moving about, being really active. It is a fast sport that’s exciting to play.
“They got to see the squash courts at the Commonwealth Games. They could not believe it. They were in awe.”
One problem in the past has been getting children to engage in organised sports beyond the confines of the school, with Folbigg highlighting that access to facilities in their area is limited.
“Children need to see that it is a sport they can do. It’s a difficult sport to access in our area, but actually, you can do it in a smaller space than tennis and the equipment England Squash has given us means we can play it anywhere.”
England Squash is also working to support this access further through TAWS (The Active Wellbeing Society) and support with training and equipment including rebound walls, allowing children further access to the sport within the school.
Moving forward, the school are looking to feed squash into their curriculum and their experience with squash has made them more open-minded about sports in general; on sports day, they had a number of new sports including: archery, kickboxing, and wheelchair basketball.
England Squash has further plans to provide squash rebound walls to schools in the area following the Sport England funding. They also plan to work with Regent Park to see how they can access the squash courts at their local leisure facilities.
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