A spring in the step of sports fans after a long winter

Big smiles and a collective sigh of relief accompanied the re-opening of outdoor sports and activities after a long lockdown winter.

Wednesday, 7th April 2021, 9:48 am
Mirfield Tennis Club members, from the left, Chairman Andy O’Donnell and Tia Cockroft, 13, Brian Fox, Dave Sumner, Lynn Fox and Wendy Cockroft.

The lifting of the “stay at home” message and the return of outdoor sports put a spring in the step of sporty types who had been cooped up at home for weeks on end.

From horse-riding to tennis, golf to boxing, people flooded back to take part in pastimes they had been denied since last year.

A family-run riding school was quickly fully booked as riders couldn’t wait to get back in the saddle.

Instructors and riders at Batley Hall Farm Riding Centre. From the left, Loren Gaskin, Debbie Gaskin, Laila Gaskin, Ruby Ward, 11, Lilly Ward, nine, on Henry, Heather Taylor and Vicky Hathaway.

Batley Hall Farm Riding Centre in Old Hall Road, Upper Batley, has survived a torrid 12 months and three lockdowns but staff have emerged excited for the future.

The Gaskin family have had livery at the farm for 25 years and started a riding school in 2012. Through word of mouth the business has steadily grown but the pandemic has stimulated new interest.

Many small riding schools have been forced to shut down but Batley Hall is thriving.

Heather Taylor, one of the three instructors, said: “We previously operated three days a week but now, since we re-opened we are operating seven days a week, 9am-7pm and we’re pretty much fully booked.

“We have 10 horses and ponies now and we got three of them in lockdown. It was a struggle to keep going but we got through it.”

On the Monday the centre re-opened it had 36 children with special needs come in and Heather said: “It was a joy to see the delight on their faces.

“We are accredited by Riding for the Disabled and it was great to see the children bouncing around and so excited to be back.

“Horse-riding is therapeutic and horses can have such a connection with children. We had one girl who started coming here when she was six. She had ADHD and autism but since coming here she has blossomed.

“She now has her own horse and is a helper here and she’s now become a young woman who is going to flourish.”

At volunteer-run Mirfield Tennis Club bookings flooded in too as the club re-opened to its 220 members.

Chairman Andy O’Donnell said: “When we opened up the booking system it went a little bit crazy. Personally, I hadn’t played tennis since last September, and that’s the longest I’ve ever gone in my adult life.”

Volunteers used the latest lockdown to spruce up the club and prepare for the re-opening. The club has six courts but one has been closed for social distancing and there’s a limit of 20 people, four per court.

Players have to bring their own tennis balls – marked with their initials – and there is no hand-shaking allowed. Players touch the ends of their racquets instead.

The club has a ball machine for practice and members are only allowed to use their own tennis balls.

“Some people have bought 50 tennis balls so they can feed the machine,” said Andy.

Currently only members are allowed to book courts. The club aims to open to the public again on a pay-and-play basis from June. As an incentive to join, the club has halved its fees until the end of April.

There was plenty of banter as golfers returned to Hanging Heaton Golf Club.

Honorary secretary Ken Woolford said: “The move from lockdown has been met with huge enthusiasm and not a little sarcasm with the Scots being allowed to play throughout!”

With the bar closed for half the year it has been financially tough for the club but it has survived thanks to the support of its members.

Ken said it didn’t take golfers long to get back in the old routine of complaining about everything from their rusty swing to the condition of the course but that was all part of the fun.

There were lots of creaking joints after 18 holes and one golfer watching his ball disappear in a direction never seen before said: “Back five minutes and moaning already!”

Some businesses, though not allowed to re-open until April 12, have found creative ways to start up again.

Jack Sunderland at Training Cave, a boxing gym at Carr Mills in Bradford Road, Birstall, has invested in an outdoor boxing ring and sessions are held in the fresh air.

“The ring only takes half-an-hour to put up and doesn’t take up much storage space,” said Jack.

“We are taking online bookings and everyone is desperate to get back.”