The blog from the heart of Leicester's Clarendon Park

Sporty Clarendon Park

Anyone for tennis? Clarendon Park is right next to The Leicestershire Tennis and Squash Club, one of the largest and oldest tennis clubs in the world. Perhaps you’ve been inspired by this year’s Wimbledon tournament and want to take up tennis as a hobby, or maybe you’re looking to improve your game with some top-level coaching. Either way, the best tennis facilities in Leicester are on your doorstep.

Take to the courts at The Leicestershire Tennis and Squash Club

Meanwhile, if running or cycling are more your thing, there are shops dedicated to these sports in Clarendon Park with specialist equipment available and knowledgeable staff on hand to support you. Beginners and professionals alike are well catered for at Leicester Running Shop and Julie’s Cycles. Both shops are on Clarendon Park Road and each offers something special to Leicester’s running and cycling enthusiasts.

In the market for something a little more sedate? How about following in the footsteps of Leicester snooker legends Willie Thorne and Mark Selby and trying your luck on the green baize? Clarendon Park is home to some of the most up-to-date snooker facilities in Leicestershire, courtesy of the Knighton and Clarendon Park Conservative Club on the corner of Queens Road and Clarendon Park Road.

All about the baseline

The entrance to The Leicestershire Tennis and Squash Club on Westernhay Road is easy to overlook, but behind those unimposing gates is an impressive sports club with a long history. Founded in 1878 as The Leicester Lawn Tennis and Quoit Club, it’s thought to be one of the 12 oldest tennis clubs in the world.

The first known grounds of the club were on an area of what is now Victoria Park, near where Victoria Park Road and London Road meet. At the time, Victoria Park was the city’s racecourse. Even during these early days the club was a sizable enterprise, with six grass courts and one cinder court.

This fabulous vintage photograph shows players taking a break from play sometime in the early 1900’s

After a short spell based near Evington Road, the club moved to its current location. The land was originally owned by Goddard’s, makers of the famous silver polish. The club originally leased the land from them, then later bought it. Over the years the club’s footprint has increased, with new courts being built, the clubhouse extended and the entrance moved from Toller Road to Westernhay Road.

Helen Walker-Lane, the club’s General Manager, grew up in nearby Stoneygate. She talks about the unique appeal of tennis to people of all ages and abilities:

“Tennis is one of few sports that you can enjoy playing regardless of your age. There are days where we’ll have a group of four-year-olds learning to play, and on the next court there will be people in their seventies playing doubles together.

“We have young people here who are extremely focused on training with our coaches and on taking part in tournaments and advancing their professional careers. Alongside that, we have former professionals and older people who enjoy playing tennis because it keeps them active and is an opportunity for them to socialise with their friends.”

The courts at The Leicestershire Tennis and Squash Club

The impressive facilities at the club are what set it apart. There are 18 courts in total, 11 of which are tournament-standard clay and most of which are floodlit. There are also two championship-standard courts for squash and racketball, with one more currently being built. Six experienced LTA accredited coaches provide training to people at a variety of levels. Helen explains the importance of continually improving the club’s facilities to keep members happy:

“Leicestershire has the highest density of tennis clubs anywhere in the world. We’ve got a lot of competition and the fact that we offer such top-level facilities is reflected in our membership fee. This means we have to offer people something different and special.

“We’re a fully managed club, which means we have several members of staff looking after the grounds, the events and the day-to-day running of things. For example, at a lot of tennis clubs, the ‘bar’ is just a few crates of beer brought in by one of the members. Here, we have a dedicated bar and catering manager who makes sure we’re stocking everyone’s favourites.”

Ready to find out more? The Leicestershire Tennis and Squash Club is having an open day on Sunday 8 July between 11am and 2pm. It’s the perfect opportunity to pop along, take an informal look around the club and explore what’s on offer. It might just be ‘love’ at first sight.

Gait expectations

What makes Leicester Running Shop unique? “It’s our service, where we test how the shoes suit your running style, fitting advice and broad selection of specialist shoes,” says business owner Rob Pullen. “We are lucky to have a customer base where people will travel a good distance for our shoes and services.”

“Most people come to buy specialist shoes with gait analysis, where we test how the shoes suit your running style, and our fitting advice. It’s a bit like getting lenses and frames from the optician.”

Rob at Leicester Running Shop

The idea of Leicester Running Shop, like many great ideas, was born over a pint with friends in the pub. Rob had a gut feeling that a shop specialising in shoes and clothes for runners, which also offered detailed gait analysis, would be a hit. The idea might never have come to fruition if it wasn’t for the fact that Rob was made redundant from his job just four days later. Driven by a strong belief that his idea would work, Rob researched his audience, scoped out shop locations and a short time later Leicester Running Shop opened on Clarendon Park Road.

A year of hard work followed as the fledgling business found its feet, but Rob’s instinct was proved right. A little over a decade later, The Running Shop is drawing customers from across the city and further afield.

It’s the gait analysis technology on offer that’s a major draw for many runners. While you run on a treadmill, a camera captures your running style and this is analysed by experienced staff. The result is a comprehensive analysis of how you run – in particular, how your foot strikes the floor and whether it rolls inwards or outwards. The analysis, combined with information about any injuries you might have, the distances you tend to run and the surface you usually run on, allow staff to recommend the perfect pair of running shoes for your needs.

Running shoes on display at Leicester Running Shop

Ready to hit the road? The joy of running is that it’s easier and cheaper to get started than a lot of sports. The Leicester running community is a very active one and the city and its parks are right outside your door. Rob says:

“To get started, really just go out and see how you go, or try the ‘Couch to 10K’ NHS app to guide you through the early stages. Many people use the app and I’ve never heard of a bad experience. To run competitively depends on your ability and expectations, but initially, join a club. Leicestershire has a lot of running clubs, possibly more than any other county.”

If you‘re looking for inspiration, Rob has just completed the gruelling Welsh 1000m peaks race. This is a mountain running race, but starts on the coast, and you self-navigate to all the 1000m peaks in North Wales. Something to aim for if you’re on the ambitious side and have a good sense of direction.

I want to ride my bicycle…

You’ve no doubt noticed Julie’s Cycles as you’ve driven or walked along Clarendon Park Road, but unless you’ve been inside, you’ve no idea of the size of this huge shop. A proper Tardis, the massive store is packed with bikes, cycling equipment, clothing and a sizable repairs workshop. In other words, it’s a cyclist’s dream.

Julie’s Cycles is a traditional family business that was founded in the 1970s. Ken White, brother of the shop’s namesake, explains:

“It started with Julie, my sister, working at a local cycle wholesalers. This created a love for cycling. Unfortunately they made her redundant and this instigated my father, Norman, to establish his own venture and open a shop on Lutterworth Road. This was mainly doing second-hand bikes, spares and accessories. Then 1973 we bought the shop on Clarendon Park Road from Chamberlain’s, which specialised in cycle and motorcycles.”

Julie’s Cycles on Clarendon Park Road

It’s no surprise that Ken grew up with a passion for everything on two wheels and when he left school in 1975 he started work at the shop, doing moped and motorcycle repairs and sales. Then the decision was made to concentrate on cycles and soon there was an expansion both of the shop itself and the products and services on offer. Julie’s Cycles is now very much a one-stop-shop for cycling enthusiasts.

“Cycle servicing and repair is our most popular service,” Ken says. “Ian has been our lead mechanic for over 35 years and has a wealth of knowledge to match (but we don’t tell him that). He reassures customers with his vast technical knowledge and our returning customers value him for his skills. We are also finding that our various fitting services are increasing in popularity. Whether it’s full bike fit or saddle measuring, people should ride with comfort, and we will do our best to help them achieve that.

“With regards to products, commuting and light sport trail bikes are very popular, especially with being based in the city and close to The University of Leicester and De Montfort University. Also, as we are surround by some lovely rural countryside, we are popular with road cyclists and the bikes and accessories that go with that territory, such as carbon road bikes, tyres, indoor trainers and clipless pedals.”

Just a few of the bikes and equipment for sale at Julie’s Cycles

Julie herself is no longer part of the family business, having left the UK to bring up her own family and pursue exciting entrepreneurial ventures abroad. However, the successful Leicester cycle business she inspired continues to go from strength to strength.

Are you keen to get your own wheels in gear? Getting started is easy and there are plenty of opportunities to join the Leicester cycling scene, as Ken explains:

“Cycling is an extremely cathartic form of exercise and is a great form of both stress-relief and cardio. If you are totally new to cycling then riding on your own around closed cycle routes like the Great Central Way will do wonders for building confidence and takes you away from the vulnerability of the open road. As you build in confidence, riding with others and sharing routes and knowledge will help you get the most of cycling.

“There are a few Leicester cycling clubs. Within each club there are varying levels of cycling skill from beginners to out-and-out racers. The Ratae Road Club is the most local club, meeting for rides in Wigston. They post details of up-coming rides on their social media. We also organise our own social rides, which we promote on our Instagram, Twitter and Facebook pages.”

Snooker loopy

The Leicester snooker community is a thriving one thanks to the success of our home-grown snooker celebrities, Willie Thorne and three-time World Champion Mark Selby. There are a number of snooker clubs in Leicester, but a recent refurbishment means that Knighton and Clarendon Park Conservative Club is home to some of the most impressive facilities in the city.

The impressive frontage of Knighton and Clarendon Park Conservative Club

Based in a large building on the corner of Queens Road and Clarendon Park Road, the club occupies an enviable position right in the very centre of Clarendon Park. Club Secretary, Kenneth Roberts, told me about the history of the club and what it has to offer snooker enthusiasts:

“Snooker has been part of the club since the very early days, and the club was founded in 1886. Our biggest achievement was to have Jeff Thompson, who became a world professional snooker player, among some of our other very talented players.

“Facilities at the club for snooker are second to none. A recently refurbished snooker room, and snooker tables and the introduction of a fourth and new snooker table. We have newly-fitted air conditioning, new lighting and everything has been freshly decorated. The total cost of the renovation was £50,000. The Leicester Mercury was here in May when 2015 World Champion Stuart Bingham officially opened the new facilities – it was a superb night.”

Snooker has been part of the club since 1886

There are two teams based at the club, meeting on Monday and Wednesday evenings, and things are arranged so that all levels of ability are catered for. Kenneth recommends joining a local team like this as a good way to get started in the game:

“For anyone wishing to take up snooker, either as a hobby or to progress as a professional, there is no better grounding than playing at a local club. The city’s most famous being Mark Selby, who turned professional at 16, and the up and coming Ben Wollaston, not forgetting our very own Willie Thorne.”

In order to use the snooker facilities, you’ll need to join Knighton and Clarendon Park Conservative Club, for an annual fee of just £12. Membership opens up a variety of other goodies too. There’s a full bar and a packed entertainment schedule, which includes seasonal events, tribute acts (recent visitors have included Let’s ABBA Party, Absolute Blondie and Freddie Mercury) and an annual day trip.

If you’re still not convinced, here’s a quick run-down of the three main advantages of snooker over the other sports covered in this article:

  • You play it inside, so it doesn’t matter what the weather’s like
  • You can enjoy a (proper) drink during play
  • You don’t have to change your shoes

Obviously, I’m a bit biased. Whatever your own preference, I hope this article has given you the inspiration to try a new sport this summer. With so many great sports clubs and sports shops in Clarendon Park, you’ve got plenty of options.