Breaking down barriers and uniting people of all ages, including refugees, people with disabilities and asylum seekers, through a mutual love of table tennis

When Tim Holtam moved to Brighton to go to university, he found there was no youth club for the sport in which he excelled as a junior champion – table tennis.

He met Harry McCarney and Wen Wei Xu and, in 2007, the trio approached Brighton Youth Centre to ask about setting up their own club.

They were given a room upstairs for a year for free and invited children to their first session using two worn-out tables.

More than a decade later, the club is now engaging more than 1,500 people from all backgrounds and ages in 70 weekly sessions.

Their youngest player is just two and the oldest, 98.

Tim said: “It’s a club of sanctuary for everyone, a place to come and hopefully feel more positive.

“You’ve got someone who is in their 80s, someone who is 10, you’ve got the national Down’s syndrome champion, or you’ve got someone from Sudan or Syria. It’s just people playing table tennis. It’s not about their label, we’re constantly trying to drop the label.”

As well as running a dedicated centre in Kemptown, they also run 100 tables across the city in parks, squares, schools, prisons, sheltered housing schemes, a centre for homeless people and a psychiatric hospital.

Rooted in the belief that sport can be used as a powerful tool to engage people from all ages and transform lives if you give them the opportunity, the club promotes an inclusive attitude.

In 2016 it became the UK’s first Club of Sanctuary for its work with refugees and asylum seekers.

The award recognised its work providing table tennis lessons to 80 unaccompanied refugee children from Afghanistan, Eritrea, Iran, Iraq, Kurdistan, Algeria and Vietnam.

Hoang Nguyen, a teenage refugee from Vietnam, is now a qualified table tennis coach and was granted leave to remain in the country for five years. His involvement in the club was cited by the Home Office as evidence of strong connections to his community.

The programme has been so successful that the club received a £280,000 grant from Sport England to expand their work. Comic Relief has also supported their programmes working with looked after children and marginalised women.

They have recently been asked to design training for other grassroots sports clubs to help them reach out to local communities and engage different groups in society.

Former city mayor and club trustee Bill Randall said: “Brighton Table Tennis Club is one of the city’s brightest sporting lights. It brings people from many communities and all ages the health and wellbeing benefits of playing sport and brings them together through friendship.”

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