Blackburn and District Badminton Association have battled back from the brink thanks to a COVID recovery initiative rooted in accessibility and affordability.

In the middle of 2020, when lockdown restrictions were gradually rolled back, it became clear to Andy Howard and his committee that some players were reluctant to return.

Four clubs were unable to return to their home courts which affected nine teams across the league structure.

“We were struggling at that point,” explains Andy. “We can be very habitual and if you’re in the habit of playing regularly, you carry on, and if you aren’t, you can lapse.

“I’m 61, I’ve been playing since I was 12 and I’ve been in the league since I was 16. Even I wondered whether I could be bothered to go again.

“There was a lot of lethargy. It was a case of how we could recycle some of the players from those clubs – who wanted to play, but saw their clubs fold – and keep them in the game.”

The answer came in a series of taster ‘come and try’ sessions, with the aim of recruiting new players and acting as a social club night for league players to mix and practice. Central to those efforts were then-secretary Claire Banfield, president Pete Wright and Howard.

The committee dipped into their cash reserves – understanding that a competitive price point was crucial to reeling in new participants – so it cost only £1 to take part in the two hour sessions on Thursday evenings.

Based at a new facility in Darwen, all those involved with the Association were thrilled with the response from old stalwarts and new faces alike.

An average of 18 to 20 players attended the sessions, with a high of 24. It was particularly pleasing for the organisers to connect with young people from different ethnic backgrounds.

Clearly, Facebook and other social media platforms were vital in helping spread the word across demographics.

“It was really fantastic to see,” said Andy.

“It reinforced and backed up the reason why we were doing it, and the power of social media really and how we communicate as a group.

“We’re using those tools a lot more than we used to – we still need to get smarter.

“It was very, very pleasing. I love badminton, so it was a relief for all of us to see a full hall again and great to be back.”

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