Garry Shorter and I play table tennis at Ashford TT Club which we set up together when we qualified as coaches in 2008.

I first started learning to play when I was expecting my first daughter Michelle (she is the mother of my five lovely grandchildren and a decent division one player). I was still learning to play and Betty Judge, who was team captain and a friend, asked me to join her team and Elaine, Betty and I were Charing Ladies  – I didn’t win a leg the first season but had good fun and as we were in the bottom division we could not get demoted!

I took my two daughters to table tennis from when they were in their carrycots, so I suppose it is no surprise that Michelle ended up as a division one player – she plays for Little Chart Tigers.

Ron Gore suggested I should become a coach, but I pointed out that I can’t play table tennis! His words were “you don’t have to be able to play table tennis to become a coach” and he added “you will have to take charge and organise things”. So, a few of us decided to give it a go.

Garry Shorter and I qualified as level one coaches in 2008 and have stuck at coaching ever since. Garry is also a brilliant photographer, so we have some amazing action shots from the Ashford Tournament over the years.

I also coach at Norton Knatchbull after-school club, which I have done for over 10 years and each year take four lads to the School Games – our highest placing so far is third.

Saturdays, we coach youngsters in the age range 6-19 and, apart from Garry and me, we have three helpers – Ray Quinn, Andy Holdstock and Douglas Ho, who have been helping us for the last couple of years and do the advanced coaching with the more experienced kids.

As the kids improve, we put those that want to play in the local Ashford League into teams with the adults and our club is made up of like-minded people who are happy to take the kids to matches and help them progress. We have gradually been expanding and I now run eight teams in the league with the help of all our club.

I am so proud of what we have achieved and continue to achieve. When my two grandsons gave up football at primary school, I got them into table tennis at our club and Leo is now in division one and Austyn is in division two.

The most important thing in my opinion is for youngsters and adults to have fun – if you don’t enjoy the sport and gel as a team, what will make you stay?

We have been expanding our venues as well. Our main hub is Repton Community Centre where we do our coaching and four of our teams play their matches. We have our two division one teams play from The Iron Room in Boughton Aluph and we have two of our division three sides play from Little Chart Village Hall.

All our teams have a mixture of adults and children apart from two of our teams which are made up of new players who came along to our Wednesday night practice sessions regularly and eventually felt confident enough to be a team.

We have a lot of youngsters and more adults who are keen to play in the league in September so I think we will be expanding again to maybe 10 teams.

Our development officer Danny Allen came on to the committee in 2023 and found us a new venue just for practice which we got up and running at Singleton Village Hall. This is open to everyone from beginners up to division one players and has been a great success again with both adults and youngsters, and everyone helps each other to improve and have fun playing.

I get to play alongside my grandsons and there are not many sports you can do that in (they are far better than me now) but it is still fun. We have coached all sorts of characters over the years – one memorable lad we had who had special needs used to do a lap of the hall every time he won a point – the other kids were brilliant with him!

When Garry and I started the club, we were clear that we would do it as volunteers and we wanted it to be affordable to all – we charge enough to cover rent and equipment and our trips to play against other clubs etc.

As the little ones join the league, our bottom division is three – I point out to them from the start that we are in the bottom division so we cannot be demoted so just go out and play and have fun. The way I see it is they spend all week in school having lessons so why would they want to spend their leisure time under pressure?

Saturday morning coaching is only for the kids, and we usually have around 20 of them. I think this works well because what kid is going to walk up to an adult and say “it is my turn now”?

Babies learn to walk despite falling over countless times – they don’t give up. I tend to think of table tennis rather like that – they do learn technique along the way but more as a guide than being drilled. We do the Butterfly Skills with them, and they get certificates along the way. All the time they are playing they are learning and making friends along the way, which is just as important.

I am very lucky that Garry Shorter is so supportive and has been with me all these years and loves our club as much as I do. Russell, my husband, is brilliant too and supports me every step of the way. If the only reason a child can’t come to table tennis is because of transport, we go and get them and take them home after. All our helpers are DBS-checked and have their safeguarding qualifications and we make sure the parents know all of us, so they know their youngsters are in safe hands.

In 2022 I got a Pride of Table Tennis Award having been nominated (I found out later) by one of our young lads, Sam Timms. I was very humbled to have been nominated and have the framed certificate on top of the cabinet.

I suppose you could say we are a table tennis family, and we all love the sport! I have achieved a lot because I am surrounded by good and supportive people who see how much progress we are making. The only challenge we had was covid when we lost our church hall and table tennis came to a stop – I spent a year with the help of the council looking for a new venue and then suddenly a slot became free at Repton Community Centre, and we were very lucky that Charlie, the manager there, was so helpful. We have been there ever since and love the venue.

I also applied for a Sports England Grant during the covid period and was lucky enough to be awarded a grant so when we were able to start up with limited numbers we could keep going.

I love the friendships, the progress and the achievements of all our players whether they just want to come and practice or get more competitive. They learn a lot and so do we.

We play three times a week regularly and I would say to anyone who is good at organising and loves talking to people (and can play a bit of table tennis) to give it a try. I don’t worry about not being a good player – my very first match was against three little 10-year-olds who beat us 9-0!

I would like to carry on the way we are going and keep expanding – I run all the teams, so no one feels under pressure when they go out to a match. I pay all the bills get all the equipment and just generally organise it all – I see it as an enjoyable adventure and love every minute of it !

We make everyone feel welcome and included and when we have our evening practices, we set a timer so everyone has a fair chance on the table.

We have all abilities and everyone is helpful and kind – we treat others how we would like to be treated and this gets through to the youngster too, so we never have problems at matches or tournaments.

We teach the kids that should they be playing someone who is a lot weaker than them to practice something they themselves are weak at and not to thrash them or humiliate them as I point out we were all there once.