Volunteer Jenni looking forward to new facilities to tap into town's tennis talent
EVERY time Jenni Bull turns out for coaching sessions on a Saturday morning, she does not make one trip to the courts – she makes five.
Each time, she has to pack tennis rackets, nets and balls from her garage into her car, because Ashbourne Tennis Club does not have the storage facilities to keep them.
But, next year, the club will move to new three floodlit courts which are being built on a site near the town's Peak Gateway Leisure Club, off Moor Lane.
It will be a big step for the club – who do not have courts of their own and have relied on council and school facilities for many years.
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And, for Bull, 62 – who gave up competitive tennis about a decade ago because of osteoarthritis and became a volunteer – it will be a important moment in her time as a volunteer.
She said: "It's not always been easy so it's absolutely brilliant to be getting these new facilities.
"Ashbourne are the only club in the Derbyshire League not to have their own toilets so, to have these new courts and a nearby place with facilities, is wonderful.
"There's so much talent in this town and we've always tried to make things affordable and accessible for people, often running things on a shoestring.
"Just having things like somewhere to store equipment, so we don't have to keep washing the balls or keeping things in my garage, will make such a difference."
Running around with equipment is far from being Bull's only responsibility, as she started running Saturday coaching sessions in March 2001.
With her help, Ashbourne have increased their junior numbers in that time from about 30 to more than 130, aged from three to 18.
They regularly compete in tournaments and, in 2011, Ashbourne won the AEGON Team Tennis League at under-eight, under-nine, under-16 and under-18 levels.
It is this success which the club said was "hugely important" in helping them secure the grants and funding needed to build the new courts.
This includes £50,000 from the Inspired Facilities Olympic legacy fund earlier this year.
Because of Bull's hard work, she was short-listed for the BBC Sport Unsung Hero Award for the East Midlands earlier this month.
Those who nominated her said she had been on "a mission to introduce the sport of tennis to a new generation of young players".
She was named as one of three finalists for the regional award and just missed out to a couple who went on to win the national award as well.
Bull, of Ellastone – who also picked up the volunteer of the year title at the Derbyshire Tennis awards in 2010 – said she had been honoured by the recognition.
She said: "I was really chuffed – it's fantastic to be nominated for something like this.
"And to reach the final three in the region is unbelievable, it really is quite an achievement.
"I was able to read some of the testimonials which parents of the children involved with the club had written and, I have to say, it was quite emotional.
"Some of the things they said to me were incredibly touching. But I think it just shows how important volunteers are across the board, in all sports, as well as the team at Ashbourne as a whole."
Bull said she had been with Ashbourne Tennis Club for many years – first developing her love of the sport as a schoolgirl.
The confirmation she had osteoarthritis not only stopped her playing competitive tennis but also her hobbies of hockey and skiing, among others.
As the membership and interest in Ashbourne Tennis Club grew once Bull was a volunteer, she said she noticed people coming to play from all over the place, such as Warslow, Kirk Langley, Church Broughton and Newborough.
She hopes the future will continue to be bright for the club, with planning consent given for five new courts – although funding has only been secured for three.
She said: "I really get as much of a buzz watching our juniors go off to play at national level as I do watching them simply get their timing right the first few times they try the sport.
"At Ashbourne, our youngest member is three, our oldest is 82. I've seen three generations of the same family play on the same team – it's a wonderful club to be part of.
"I'm now just looking forward to the days when we can hold coffee mornings or set up sessions for young professionals trying to fit the sport in around work. It's a very exciting time."