An afternoon with Brighton Table Tennis Club, by Esme Sarfas
Having recently secured a twelve year residency at The Fitzherbert’s Centre in Kemp Town, the Brighton Table Tennis Club is a dynamic place to visit, with many of the staff, volunteers and centre goers bursting with excitement for the future of the club. I was very thankful to have been invited to see the centre last summer and chat to everyone about what goes on there, their plans for the future and how FareShare Sussex’s food is supporting them.
“We wanted to use table tennis to bring people together” -Harry, Trustee
From humble beginnings renting a space in the Brighton Youth Centre once a week, the BTTC has gone from strength to strength over the years, growing in numbers and popularity. Harry, a founding member and trustee of the BTTC, told me how originally, they had only held a once a week club for kids exclusively. As time went on, adults started turning up and wanting to play, and the club felt they wanted to cater for them too. Once the club started expanding to new age groups an even wider demographic of people became interested, which led to the range of inclusive sessions the club runs today.
“We have created a space where people can make unusual and unlikely friendships” -Harry, Trustee
The BTTC is well known for its varied and inclusive programme. Alongside open sessions and children’s sessions, the BTTC holds sessions for females only, people over 50, adults with learning difficulties, and people with downs syndrome.Centre-goer and volunteer Jeff praised the club for the positive effect it has had on his and his son Harry’s lives. Harry, who has downs syndrome, has been encouraged by the club to pursue his dream of becoming the ‘number 1 downs syndrome player in the world’. Harry was introduced to the BTTC on a visit with a charity organisation, where Tim immediately noticed his talent for the sport and invited him to attend more sessions. Harry has since played in the team GB downs syndrome team and is going to Germany to play with groups from there and Sweden, who also have downs syndrome or use wheelchairs. Jeff described how the club has “created a new world for [Harry]” and has been great for his social life and self-esteem, in that he has become a “valued member of a very nice community”. Jeff has also felt like he has personally benefitted from spending time at the BTTC, and described how he gets “to meet a lot of new people, especially young people – Which for an old codger like me is great!”
“Sport can be used to help refugees to become part of our society” -Tim, BTTC Manager
The club creates space and sessions for new and emerging groups of vulnerable people in the community, and has made effort to reach out to the refugees that have been housed in the city. The BTTC was the first sports club in the UK to be awarded ‘Club of Sanctuary’ status, due to its work with 15 refugee minors from Afghanistan, Eritrea, Iraq, Iran, Kurdistan and Vietnam. The BTTC has supported two of the refugees towards gaining recognised coaching qualifications. Jeff explained warmly how “it doesn’t matter what your background is, you’re a human being” and how Tim and Harry “want to see a single population in the centre, where everyone plays together regardless of background and/or ability.”
So where does FareShare food come into all of this? The BTTC cannot currently offer a meal or cooked service, and doesn’t have chilled storage facilities, so FareShare Sussex provides them with food that can be stored at room temperature, such as dried pasta, tins and biscuits.
Tim explained that he saw the food as an opportunity to act as a “make-shift food bank” and give out food to the people that need it who attend the club. Paul, a centre-goer, explained how Tim and the other leaders “encourage impoverished people to take the food.” Tim highlighted how “it’s great for the mums of kids who come here a few times a week”, as whilst the BTTC tries to keep the cost of attending sessions down “if people come a few times a week it does add up”. The food can go towards a family’s weekly shop and act as an “extra perk” or reimbursement for those people that don’t have a lot and still want to come and enjoy the club.
A bright future
“I want more of my friends to come!” -Brandon, Centre Goer
With their new premises and the increasing impact of the work that the club are doing with vulnerable communities in Brighton and Hove, BTTC are paving the way for (we hope) many new sports and community activities to become more inclusive and diverse. FareShare Sussex is proud to support and work alongside the BTTC – see you for a game soon!
For more information on the BTTC and their programme of activities please go to www.facebook.com/brightonttc