The Area Development Lead for Table Tennis in Northern England, Martin Ireland, is optimistic that participation rates in the sport can increase off the back of this summer’s ‘Ping!’ initiative taking place in Blackpool.
‘Ping!’ brings tables to locations that are more visible to the public, encouraging them to play the sport socially in unexpected places, with the view to them then taking it up more permanently.
Blackpool will be the launch city for this summer’s event after a number of successful campaigns in recent years, covering locations across the country. The event begins in June.
“Table tennis through the ping programme has been very successful for a number of years now,” Ireland said. “I think there have been 21 cities in total involved in the programme.
“This programme gets table tennis out into the open. It is quite often played in a lot of indoor locations and quite small rooms in some cases where people don’t see it, so hosting it in a sports hall is a good way of increasing exposure.
“It (the programme) has certainly highlighted the benefits of playing table tennis socially. It’s been taken up in a number of bars, clubs and workplaces, community locations and the project itself seems to have gone from strength to strength.”
This is the first time that ‘Ping!’ will be taking place in Blackpool. The event lasts for the summer before tables used for the event either remain in place or are donated to local community groups. The initiative is funded by the National Lottery.
An example of an unusual location where ‘Ping!’ has taken place in the past is in the Liverpool One shopping centre, which Ireland said went down well with passers-by.
However, he also explained that part of the programme’s aim is to increase the amount of people playing the sport, as well as providing some moments of enjoyment in the streets.
He added: “It’s alright getting the sport out there, people seeing it, and it being a fun activity to get involved in, but the actual aim of the programme is to get people thinking about playing the sport – potentially on a weekly basis.
“From a Blackpool perspective, what we’re looking to do is ensure that the tables go to where the people are, and linking that back to opportunities to play in the Blackpool area. Blackpool table tennis is quite strong and they have 12 tables set up on a Monday night at Blackpool sports centre.
“It’s using the Ping project as a marketing or promotion tool to get a lot more people thinking about playing, and giving them the opportunity to take it further should they want to do it. The key thing is providing relevant playing opportunities for people who want to play.”
Those who participate in ‘Ping!’ can then take the sport up further if they wish. There is also an app which provides information concerning local drop-in sessions and opportunities to play in leagues.
Ireland, who is keen to see the sport develop in both a social and competitive sense in Blackpool, believes ‘Ping!’ can lead to more people playing competitively in the Blackpool and District League.
“There’s about five or six new players in the league this year and I’m hopeful there’ll be a lot more next year on the back of Ping!,” he added. “You have an opportunity to take part whether that is in a park or in the town centre and there’ll be a link to the website that’ll show you where the other opportunities are.
“The sites that work the best are the ones where people congregate or at an event. So Stanley Park, for example, and the town centre are prime locations. The launch event will be taking place outside the Winter Gardens in June.
“We’re looking to see if we can get a location where we can actually establish a ping pong parlour, and have tables up for the duration of the event inside.”