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Stratford: How Stratford Padel Club puts community at the heart of its operation

Strong demand at the club sees its owners planning to expand with new courts in the pipeline

Stratford Padel Club is located just off Stratford High Street

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The idea for Stratford Padel Club came when the venue Javier Fernandez Aguirre and Anka Mandelson had been playing at closed down.

With its owners unable to find a suitable site to continue, Javier decided to have a go himself, enlisting the help of Anka, initially as an investor.

“Luckily we found a location on Stratford High Street and, having initially tried to get plans for a sports centre going, he decided to see if he could open a padel club,” said Anka, who now acts as co-owner and runs the business with Javier.

“He raised the money pretty quickly but we took a massive risk because we didn’t know if we would get planning permission and that took two years.

“But we got approval and, in a record amount of time, we got the building in September and had to open in December.

“We launched on December 8 with three courts and a tournament for 30 players – we had no idea who would come, but it was an adventure.

“We were capital positive by the following April and reached capacity very quickly.

“The day we filled our peak time slots, we made £100 in profit and we thought the business would work.

Stratford Padel Club co-owner Anka Mandelson

“It meant incredible hours of working for us, but the risk paid off and, just before lockdown, we’d decided to add more courts because we couldn’t cope with the demand.”

Covid was a tough time for the club.

With no government support, Javier and Anka put money back into the business to keep it going and players started a funding campaign that ended up raising £25,000 to help keep it running.

Having expanded to five courts, and very much recovered from the ravages of the pandemic, the club is once again battling demand and has applied to build a further four courts to accommodate all the people who want to play.

Anka puts its success down to the approach she and Javier have always taken.

“Our belief is that our club has to be a community,” she said.

“We treat everybody as though this is their second home.

“We know every player’s name and we have built a team here that shares that approach.

“Whether people are regular players, coming for an event or just trying out the sport, they are part of this community.

“We didn’t embark on this venture for the money – it’s a reflection of our values, our personalities and what we believe in.

“We want to make sure that anybody can come and play at this club – that checkout workers can rub shoulders with bankers on our courts. 

The club now boasts five courts and intends to build more

“The UK is a nation of chronically ill people, and I think padel tennis can help solve this problem.

“It’s accessible and delivers physical and mental engagement for individual players, families and older people – it’s definitely something you can pick up later in life.

“We have players here aged up to 78, who are coming on a regular basis and it’s important that councils and landowners understand what padel tennis can do.

“I fear that the sport may be moving to exclusive price points that won’t address these areas. 

“The reason it has become so popular in Spain is because it was played in the poorer parts of the cities at courts made of concrete on industrial estates – not with fancy glass.

“We will always be a club that remains accessible.”

Padel, for those who don’t know, is a game for four people played on a smaller court than tennis with hard walls that come into the action when balls bounce off them.

“The scoring is the same as in tennis.

Court pricing at Stratford Padel Club starts at £16 per player for 90 minutes at off-peak times, rising to £19 at peak times for non members.

There are cheaper options for two and three-hour sessions. Various membership packages are also available, which reduce the fees further. 

Stratford Padel Club co-owner Javier Fernandez Aguirre

Children aged three and a half and over are also welcome and coaching sessions for adults and kids at all levels are available. 

“We don’t want anyone to feel like they have had wasted time or wasted their money, so we’ve created a £10 starter package that everyone begins with,” said Anka, who accidentally discovered padel while trying in vain to find a court to play a tennis match on. 

“With that package, you get a coaching session for 30 minutes, a player rating from the coach and then a free membership for 30 days.

“The rating is your point of entry into matches, tournaments and lessons.

“Regardless of your level, we want to make sure that you’re going to have a positive experience at the club – the people you play with will be plus or minus five points from your rating.

 “If you come as a beginner, you know that you’re not going to play with advanced players, that lessons will be customised for your level, that tournaments are going to be appropriately challenging – so it’s never going to be a daunting experience and you’re not going to be out of your depth.

“It will also give you a road map of what you need to do to improve. We know people play more if they feel they are getting better.

“We have a very detailed matrix on our app – we’ve put a lot of time into it to help people do that.

Padel is always played as doubles with four people on court

“The 30 days also give players time to see if they like the club, whether they want to embrace the community and if everything feels right.”

The club, which hosts the largest padel tournaments in the country and is partnered with the Lawn Tennis Association – the governing body for the sport in the UK – and boasts a beer garden, equipment shop plus changing and shower facilities. 

It also offers table tennis and gym facilities to complement its core offering. 

Its more than 11,000 registered players represent a complete spectrum from total beginners to those playing the sport at the highest elite levels. 

It is located within easy walking distance of both Stratford station and Pudding Mill Lane DLR and is also accessible directly from Canary Wharf via the D8 bus.

As for the future, things look bright.

There’s the mooted expansion at the Stratford site, which has a lease until 2025, while Javier and Anka are eyeing fresh openings in other parts of London.

Watch this space.

Find out more about Stratford Padel Club here.

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- Jon Massey is co-founder and editorial director of Wharf Life and writes about a wide range of subjects in Canary Wharf, Docklands and east London - contact via jon.massey@wharf-life.com
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Canary Wharf: How Padium is bringing padel tennis to Bank Street

Indoor club will feature seven indoor courts, an outdoor court plus a pro shop and changing facilities

Padium is under construction at 10 Bank Street

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Just what are those vast metallic arches that have sprung up on the flat patch of ground between Morgan Stanley and Societe Generale?

Well, the three-peaked structure is set to shelter Houman Ashrafzadeh’s latest dream.

The serial entrepreneur, together with two friends, already has a presence at 35 Bank Street, having launched new wave salad bar Urban Greens in September 2021.

This summer he’s set to do something completely different with the launch of Padium, a little further west on the estate. 

“I grew up in Sweden and I’ve lived in London for nearly 16 years but, whenever I’d go back to visit, I’d see this new sport emerging,” he said.

“My brother and his friends played it and so I tried it and got completely hooked.”

That sport was padel tennis – popular across Europe and especially so in Houman’s old home town of Helsingborg with an unusually high number of courts for a place with a population a little over 100,000 people. 

“When I discovered it, I felt it was something very different – so much fun, but with a social aspect,” he said.

“You have four players on a smaller court, a lot of banter going on, and it’s intense, because you’re in a more confined space than on a tennis court.

“It’s relatively easy to pick up – after two or three sessions you get the basics and you can have a decent game even with someone who is better than you.

Entrepreneur Houman Ashrazadeh is behind plans for Padium

“I was fascinated, because it was so much fun, and I went back to London, super-excited to play a game with my friends – but there was nowhere to buy Padel rackets, except online.

“Eventually I managed to convince a few friends to play and tried to book a court, but there were hardly any.

“Back then, there was one in Regent’s Park and one in Hyde Park, but they were outdoors – when it rains, you can’t really play.

“The frustration grew because I wanted to play in London. I played every time I went back to Sweden, but that was not frequently.

“I just couldn’t get over how strange it was that it hadn’t caught on in the UK. Squash was big, so why not padel?”

Initially Houman’s idea was to try to replicate the sorts of facilities he’d used in Sweden – unmanned courts in warehouses accessed by a code.

However, a dinner with Spotify co-founder Martin Lorentzon – an investor in Houman’s successful Coffydoor venture – took things up a notch.

Canary Wharf Group CEO Shobi Khan takes on Houman in an exhibition match to mark the official unveiling of Padium

“One of the topics that came up was padel tennis,” said Houman.

“Martin loves it and plays five or six times a week – it’s a passion for him and he’s very good at it.

“ I told him I was looking to start a Padel club in London as then there were none.

“At that time, Stockholm had hundreds of courts, but I only knew of two outdoor courts in the whole of London and he couldn’t believe it.

“So I showed him the Excel spreadsheet I’d been working on  and he said he’d be interested in partnering up and investing.

“Having him on board gave me the ability to do something on a bigger scale than I’d been considering.

“My experience of Padel in the UK was that it was often very basic.

“It was embarrassing to bring friends from Sweden to these places, because the facilities were poor.

“Courts would not be maintained properly, with broken plaster on the walls and would often be too close to one another, so balls would be flying in from other games, or there would be no changing facilities or showers.”

An artist’s impression of how Padium will look

So Houman went back to the drawing board to create something he thought would be capable of “revolutionising” the game in the UK.

“I realised the club needed to be in a flagship location – a place that could attract a lot of people who had never played before,” he said.

“It should be an educator, to get a lot of people involved, including kids and schools so they too can enjoy this amazing game.

“I was told by some companies that I could just put up some courts and not spend much money because the demand was so high that they would be packed anyway.

“But I didn’t want to do that, I wanted to create an experience and an environment where you could build a community. 

“I want young people involved, corporate clients and really good players too – the full 360-degrees like I was used to in Sweden. 

“With Martin involved, I didn’t want to replicate any of the experiences I’d had in the UK, I wanted to raise the bar and have something much better to revolutionise the sport here.”

Padium will house seven indoor glass courts

The result is Houman’s plans for Padium.

The facility will be home to seven indoor panoramic glass courts under a 10-metre high ceiling including a centre court.

There will also be an outdoor court, a pro shop and a nutritional drinks bar. 

The store will stock clothing from tennis legend Björn Borg and a selection of rackets from Babolat. 

It will also have changing and shower facilities with a towel service and a club lounge on a mezzanine floor where players can hang out before and after games. 

“Right now I play at other clubs, but I have to devote half a day for one hour of padel, because I have to travel for an hour, play, return home to shower, then continue my day,” said Houman.

“That’s a lot of time to spend when the whole thing could just take 90 minutes.

“I want the emphasis to be on good service at Padium with my staff being really knowledgeable and friendly – to create an environment for everyone where it’s welcoming and everybody feels included.

“This goes back to my Swedish roots, where padel is open to everyone.

“We don’t have fancy clubs over there where you have to be a member and it takes you 20 years to get on the list. It’s possible to create a premium product and to have that inclusivity where all are welcome.”

The proposed lounge area on the structure’s mezzanine

Extensive work to strengthen the foundations under 10 Bank Street have been undertaken to support the concrete slab on which Padium will sit.

Located on the site of a mooted 32-storey office block, the club will bring fresh life to a patch of ground that had become a popular sun trap before the winds of Storm Eunice tore up its astroturf.

Open daily from 6am-11pm, courts will be bookable in advance for four players with slots of 60, 90 or 120 minutes available with no membership required to play.

“One of the seven indoor courts is a centre court, which will cost a bit more, but we’ll be incorporating court camera technology on that one, which reads the game and gives you statistics,” said Houman.

“One is a recording camera which records the game and the other is AI-based, to give you statistics about your game, which is really cool.

“This will help people who want to improve their game and so coaches can assess their performance.

“If it’s popular, then we’ll look at rolling it out to other courts too.

“For me, padel is the perfect combination of squash and tennis. It takes the best of both and combines them into one game. 

“It’s easy to learn, but hard to master. Because the courts are smaller, the actual amount of time you spend playing is greater than tennis – rallies can often go on for minutes rather than being over quickly.

Padium will include a pro shop and nutritional drinks bar

“Also, tennis can be a lonely sport. With padel you play with four people, so it’s super social.

“You have a ranking, sign up and play with players of a similar level you don’t know, so it’s a great way to meet people.

“One of our responsibilities will be to help nurture the grass roots of this amazing sport.

“We want schools and people from the local community to come and discover the game because they will be the players of the future.

“We need players to convince councils and other organisations that it’s worth approving these facilities – that the investment will be worth it – so we can grow the sport.

“Ultimately the aim is for it to become an Olympic sport.

“There’s a federation and there are professional players making a living from the game now, which is great.

“The Lawn Tennis Association is also involved now and we’re looking forward to working with them too.”

As for Houman, Urban Greens remains a strong focus and, come the opening of Padium there will certainly be some crossover between the two brands.

“Padel and salad go well together and Urban Greens will certainly be catering for events we put on,” he said.

“We’ll also be offering companies corporate sponsorships for the courts where businesses can have their name and logo on the booking app and on the courts themselves, with playing time for their staff and whole-club takeover events.” 

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- Jon Massey is co-founder and editorial director of Wharf Life and writes about a wide range of subjects in Canary Wharf, Docklands and east London - contact via jon.massey@wharf-life.com
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