Hove Beach Croquet Club
Hove, E. Sussex
It is not a sport, it is an excuse for flirting and mischief.
My name is Graeme Kerr and about 10 years ago, I played pub pool for The Eclipse in Hove. There were five of us on the team and it gave us something to do on winter evenings.
We even won the league a few times, but in the summer pool wasn't quite the thing, and we needed something else.
In 2009 we got a basic croquet set and started playing on an area of old grass outside the local Hove and Kingsway Bowling Club on the seafront in Hove. The grassed area had apparently been a croquet lawn in the 1920s.
We knew little about the game but our research was both positive and intriguing – 'at the end of the 19th century, croquet was more popular than tennis. But it became associated with gambling, drinking and philandering to such an extent that it was once banned in Boston as an immoral practice'.
Within a year of starting to play, the idea of bringing croquet back to Hove seafront emerged.
At the time there was a lot of talk about the Big Society so we came up with a model for a club run by a small group for the benefit of the whole community.
Our aim was to create a friendly, relaxed environment where anyone could come along to watch, learn or play croquet. These things are never straightforward though.
We needed a base and a lawn. The Hove and Kingsway Bowling Club had three lawns, one of which was rarely used. Initially their members weren’t too keen about losing their spare lawn, but we persisted and with the help of the council, in 2012 we got our lawn (and a hut).
Four years on:
the club has been described in local press as 'one of Brighton's best kept secrets';
we have about 40 members and with their help (including a committee of four), we run regular tournaments, barbecues, family days and coaching for kids;
after two years of trying (not entirely successfully) to maintain a fine lawn (hundreds of volunteer hours), we now pay the council to look after it;
we run regular events for local mental health charities, to give their clients a day out by the seaside learning and playing croquet. The feedback on these events has been fantastic;
we have just held our second annual Fete, with art stalls, lots of family activities, world famous musicians and croquet.
Last year, a local reporter wrote about her experience of the club; '… throughout August and September, I rekindled my relationship with croquet and discovered a little oasis of lazy days, easy laughs, curious people, interesting conversation, scrabble (not sure about that one), oh and croquet'.
There is much more we can do – we are currently increasing our offer to local charities as the feedback has been so positive and we're having leaflets printed in different languages to encourage the new communities in the area to come along.
How would this funding have an impact on your community?
In the spirit of 'Field of Dreams', we have built it and they have come, but now we would like more to come and to give more back to the community for the privilege of playing croquet in this most idyllic of locations.
Through membership fees, visitor contributions, small fundraising activities and donations, we have 20 deckchairs and tables which are set up each weekend for members and visitors. We have great croquet equipment including good quality mallets for children and adults and big hoops for beginners. There are two woodland signs with information about the club and the game, barbecues, rugs, board games, a flag and everything else we need to create an easy, friendly, relaxing and welcoming environment.
Awareness of the croquet club in the local community is now high and visitor numbers are increasing all the time.
But we would like to use the club as a resource, not just for people who played on family holidays when they were children, but for those other sections of the community who wouldn't normally have access to such a facility.
We already offer free croquet days for local mental health charities including Mind and a local centre called the Corner House. Groups play on Mondays when we set out the pitches for them and offer coaching where required.
A few weeks ago a lady with a group from Mind, who suffered from anxiety/depression/agoraphobia, said it was the most fun she had had in years.
We would like to extend this activity to other charities, and next year offer a light subsidized lunch on charity days and a croquet handbook for everyone who participates.
We would like to allocate a budget of £320 for 8 charity days next year.
Following on with a theme of outreach, we would like to make our club more accessible to refugee groups or people from other recently arrived communities who would like to get to know some local people and make the first steps towards integration.
With this in mind, we would like to get flyers printed in different languages.
STOP PRESS! On Friday July 22 2016 a delivery truck caught the corner of our storage hut and brought it down. (See the pictures on our Facebook page – Hove Beach Croquet Club). Masses of croquet equipment, deckchairs and sundries have been farmed out to kind people to look after, but accessible storage near the croquet lawn will be significant problem until the end of the season (October). We aim to set up the lawn for play as much as possible, but the fact that we are now operating with minimum equipment and no seating is going to impact visitor income in a big way. Any extra funding would be a fantastic help.
"'I am a member of many croquet clubs, which might sound strange but I am just back from competing in the the World Championships in Palm Beach. I have played all over the world but I can honestly say I have never enjoyed playing anywhere as much as I do at Hove Beach Croquet Club.
'It doesn't feel like a club, it is a real community thing, there is no formality, few rules, everyone is welcome and their motto, which I particularly like, is 'causing mistrust and resentment among even the best of friends'.
'On a summer evening, sitting in a deckchair down the seafront in Hove, watching people play and maybe even helping them develop, is one of my great pleasures.'
Welsh International Croquet Team"