Let us play: Badminton England puts faith in religious institutions

<span>Photograph: Mark Kolbe/Getty Images</span>
Photograph: Mark Kolbe/Getty Images

The future of badminton lies in church halls, shul halls and Islamic centres, as the governing body looks to religious institutions to provide a solution to the crisis in grassroots sports provision in England.

A new strategy launched by Badminton England aims to make the sport the “most inclusive and accessible” in the country by opening up 200 new spaces in which to play. Alongside working with schools, faith spaces are seen as important facilities in attempting to grow the estimated 1 million people who play badminton in England.

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“We believe we can get another 200 community settings opened up reasonably quickly because we can use schools, community centres, faith centres, church halls, all sorts of spaces,” said Sue Storey, the chief executive of Badminton England. “That’s a key part of what we want to achieve, based on the backdrop of massive pressure on indoor facilities and the government not putting enough money into the problem.

“The reality is that there is hundreds of millions of pounds needing to be spent on leisure centres across the country and the money the government is putting in is a drop in the ocean of what’s needed. As a sport we’re recognising that we cannot rely on the public sector leisure centres for the future, we have to look at other ways of opening up courts.”

The new strategy is based in part on the work of Louise Hewitt, who oversees projects for Badminton England in the north-west. Her work with communities in Manchester, Bolton and Bradford has shown that local, community spaces often provide a conducive setting for people who may be inactive or uncomfortable taking part in sport otherwise.

“It’s about doorstep sport for women who might not be able to access the kind of spaces that would be the normal place to play,” she said, describing the birth of one project in Bolton.

“I met a lady who runs a women’s centre and 300 people access it, it’s opposite a mosque, it’s above a garage and they do walking football. For cultural reasons it’s the only building they’re allowed to access, they can only come for a short window of time and because of their cultural attire they don’t feel comfortable going to a traditional leisure centre. She was like: ‘Is there anything we can do?’ and I said: ‘Of course we can.’”

Hewitt believes an approach taking badminton into communities is viable because of the sport’s qualities. Play is possible at distances of two metres, and equipment cheaper than comparable sports. It can also be played among generations. “We can get grandparents playing with grandchildren and it’s not adapted,” she said. “I think that’s where we’re different. It’s so multigenerational [and] in certain cultures that goes a long way.”