Gay squash club in Finsbury gets �6k grant

A SQUASH club in Finsbury has been given �6,500 to develop the sport in the gay community.

4Play Squash, a lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender club based at Finsbury Leisure Centre in Norman Street, was awarded the Sport England grant to advance squash among different communities, particularly gay women.

Saturday saw the first instalment of the club’s new coaching programme. Each week a free session dedicated to a particular LGBT group will open at the Centre, starting with younger players (under-25) then older players (over-55), lesbians and “friends of LGBT people”.

John Forni, publicity officer at 4Play Squash, said the main objective was to diversify the pool of people playing the sport. “Squash is a sport that anyone can play at any age,” he said. “It’s nice to attract different members – many of ours at present are males between 20 and 50 years old. We want to open up squash to experts or novices of any age, gender or sexuality.”

The money received from Sport England, the body responsible for investment in grassroots sport, will be spent mainly on coaching, as well as on equipment and facilities.

Mr Forni said the club, which was formed 20 years ago, is important for the LGBT community. “We can show that there are other things to do as an LGBT person, other ways to meet people, not just the stereotypical party scene. You can meet like-minded people through doing something that keeps you fit and you enjoy. Sport brings people together.”

Having started as a social club, 4Play Squash now has teams in the competitive Middlesex Leagues and runs its own tournaments, while competing in LGBT competitions throughout Europe.

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Mr Forni rejected the idea that having a separate club for LGBT people was controversial. “One of our dedicated sessions is for friends of LGBT people, so we have made an effort to make it an inclusive group. Although we are an LGBT club, we welcome people who aren’t LGBT. This is a diverse and transient area. It’s about giving people the chance to form networks by expanding our connections across different communities.”

Councillor Terry Stacy, leader of Islington Liberal Democrats and former leader of the council, said: “I think it’s important to support minority groups to participate in sports that they wouldn’t normally engage in. I congratulate the club on their grant – Sport England must feel there is a gap there. We’ve had women-only sports clubs, Muslim women’s swimming groups, girls’ tennis – I don’t have a problem with targeted provision if there’s a gap in the participation.”