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Rotherhithe: Why UK Wallball is launching courts at Surrey Quays Shopping Centre

Organisation’s CEO wants facility to be used as an urban playground to help boost Londoners’ activity

The courts have been installed at Surrey Quays Shopping Centre
The courts have been installed at Surrey Quays Shopping Centre

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Sunlight streams down onto the freshly minted wallball courts at Surrey Quays Shopping Centre.

I bounce the rubber ball and slap it vigorously with my hand.

My opponent steps in, makes an easy return, I dash forward striking the yellow sphere deftly into the bottom right hand corner of the wall, where it bounces back into the court and lands stone dead. The point is mine.

I lose all the other points, of course, but then my opponent is founder and CEO of UK Wallball and a former European No. 1 singles champion. So I don’t feel too bad.

Dan Grant and the governing body for the sport he runs are on a mission to get as many people as possible outside, active and bouncing balls against walls.

Installed in partnership with British Land, the two UK Wallball courts on the Rotherhithe Peninsula will be free to use (if you’ve brought your own ball) and can be turned to any number of game variations following their forthcoming launch on May 12, 2022.

Dan said: “Wallball is a simple, accessible sport where you hit a ball against a wall with your hands. Lots of people will have done it at school – called it pat-ball, Eton Fives, one-wall handball – there are lots of different names for it, but ‘wallball’ is the one they play around the world.

“This is the one wall version and it’s the international standard.

“Basically, you have one big rectangle marked out on the wall and one big rectangle on the floor. The main thing is – all you need to do is hit the ball with either hand so that it hits the wall and lands in the court.

“It can bounce once before it’s hit again and then you rally away until it either bounces twice or it goes out.

“The way it’s scored is that you get a point for each rally won on your serve – if you lose the rally then it’s your opponent’s serve. Games are usually played up to 11, 15 or 21 points.

“The easiest way to think of it is that it’s like playing squash against one wall – but there’s no line to hit it above, so you can hit it low and kill the ball.

“For the service, the ball has to hit the wall and land in the back half of the court and then it can land anywhere in the box.

“There’s also a blocking rule – if I hit the ball and then don’t move, I’m a legitimate obstruction that the other player has to try and get around.

“You can’t rugby tackle the other person out of the way – it’s a non contact sport – so they have to get round you to get the ball back.”

UK Wallball CEO Dan Grant pictured at the new courts

Having travelled the world playing the game Dan subsequently trained as a doctor, so his interest in promoting sport goes beyond pure publicity and is firmly rooted in the physical and mental benefits of outdoor activity. 

“Our aim at UK Wallball is to try to get as many people from as many different backgrounds as possible active.

“In cities where grey space is increasing and green space is disappearing, we think people should use walls for things like this.

“There are official rules, but our motto is: ‘Any wall, any ball, anytime’. We don’t care how people use the courts, so long as they are being used.

“If people want to invent their own rules, they absolutely can. This whole space at Surrey Quays can be used for a lot of other things – not just traditional wallball.”

The Rotherhithe installation is the first multi-court facility for free use in the country.

Alongside the two playing areas is a third space where those waiting to have a go can hang out, spectator searing and a vending machine selling balls and gloves.

Dan said: “Last year, we did our first proper community court at Bankside, which was also a really vibrant installation.

“That was us working with the Jack Petchey Foundation to target young people in London.

“When it went up it got a lot of media traction, which was awesome. I think a lot of people during the pandemic realised exercise in the open air was a pretty good thing, and that wallball is cheap too – in fact, if you have your own ball, it’s free.

“Off the back of that, British Land, which is regenerating the area around Surrey Quays and Canada Water, saw it, thought it was pretty cool and got us down to find out if they could do something for the community here.

“I persuaded them that they should and so we’ve installed the courts.

“We got our artist back – Dan Gurney – to make them look great. I really like his geometric approach. It works really well in an urban space.

“When you do this kind of thing, you want the courts to feel like they belong, so the design is inspired by both the greenery and the docks on the Rotherhithe peninsula.

“We’ll also have posters telling people how to play and how the design of the courts fits into the local area.

“The way we think of it is as an urban amphitheatre – yes, we want it to be used for wallball, but other sports and arts organisations can get in touch with us and use the space as well.

“It’s also that street to elite philosophy – I want a kid who’s played on these courts, hasn’t had to pay for anything apart maybe for a couple of quid for a ball and then for them to go on and play for Team GB. That would be really cool.”

A vending machine will sell balls on site or players can bring their own
A vending machine will sell balls on site or players can bring their own

Dan, who works as a doctor in emergency medicine and medtech, believes wallball could be the next big thing in the UK – something he believes would be beneficial to the health of the nation should urban environments embrace it. 

“Everything we’ve learnt over the last few years suggests it will catch on in the UK,” he said.

“It’s already big in Ireland, Spain and the Basque Country – it’s huge in the USA. In New York there are 2,500 courts. Wallball is taking off here too. 

“We’ve started working with schools over the past couple of years and the kids love it. It’s not just sport either – when we put a court in a school we can give them a blank canvas and they can design it, so there’s a creative element there too.

“Our ethos is that it’s not super-serious. 

“Of course, there are pathways for GB Juniors to go straight to the top, but if you just want to turn up and play, that’s fine too.

“I feel like if the kids are enjoying it, then that’s good for all of us.

“As a doctor I’m interested in prevention. We know that if you’re just active and walking around, then that’s really good for you.

“As you travel you see people from the lowest socio-economic backgrounds have the worst outcomes in terms of health. So, having an urban space that feels safe and fun is much better than the alternative.”

The UK Wallball courts at Surrey Quays are set to launch on May 12, 2022, from 1pm-3pm.

The courts will be in place on an ongoing basis.

Read more: APT in Deptford seeks trustees to sit on its charity board

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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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Thamesmead: How Peabody’s Southmere scheme is transforming Abbey Wood

Housing Association has 30-year plan to refresh a massive slice of London connected to Crossrail

An artist’s impression of Peabody’s Southmere Village

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A t present, the journey from Canary Wharf to Abbey Wood takes a little over 40 minutes.

The various Frankenstein options available involve much chopping and changing – the Jubilee line, the DLR, the 486 bus and Thameslink can all come into the equation. It’s anything but direct.

But, if the seers are to be believed, all that’s about to change. When Elizabeth line services start running (perhaps as early as March, if the optimists have it right), Abbey Wood is set to be the end of the line for Crossrail’s central and eastern section.

That will put it squarely in touch with a whole swathe of central London, which is currently much trickier to travel to. The Wharf itself is expected to be around 11 minutes’ ride on a single train.

Why does this matter? Effective transportation is the lifeblood of regeneration. In east London, this is best demonstrated by Canary Wharf itself, which struggled as a project until the Jubilee line extension arrived.

What such connections mean for residential areas is possibility – the ability to rapidly access different parts of the city and the things they offer makes living in an area a richer experience.

It’s also a two-way street. Visitors come back the other way, further enlivening a place and befitting its residents.

Peabody’s Matt Foulis at the Southmere marketing suite – image Matt Grayson

No wonder Matt Foulis of Peabody is smiling. London’s oldest housing association took over ownership of Thamesmead, served by Abbey Wood to the south, in 2014 and has a 30-year plan to regenerate the area.

But as project director, Matt’s enthusiasm isn’t drawn solely from the opportunities Crossrail will bring.

It’s because he already knows what the area has to offer and can see how it will continue to develop over the course of the next three decades.

“We are under way on a the delivery of around 20,000 homes at Thamesmead,” he said.

“We completed our first development – The Reach – a couple of years ago, we’ve just started on a site at Plumstead in partnership with Berkeley and we are currently delivering what we’re calling Southmere Village – phase one of our regeneration of south Thamesmead near Abbey Wood station.”

When completed, Southmere will see 1,600 homes built across four sites close to Crossrail, new public space in the form of Cygnet Square and The Nest – a library and community centre – as well as commercial space for shops, restaurants and bars.

The scheme offers a mixture of properties available for social rent or to buy either on a shared ownership basis or via private sale. Residential blocks Starling Court and Kestrel Court are due to complete in the coming months, with strong sales reported. 

A collection of one, two and three-bedroom shared ownership properties is set to launch at Crane Court on February 12.

An artist’s impression of Peabody’s Southmere Village

Matt said: “Our properties have sold really well – I think people are really buying into the wider vision for Thamesmead.

“Over the last two years in particular, everybody has woken up to the importance of green space and proximity to water and the impact they can have on your life, your health and your wellbeing.

“That’s what we have here – Thamesmead has five artificial lakes with Southmere the biggest and they’re connected by a network of canals.

“They were designed as a surface drainage system but it means we have these fantastic assets that people can enjoy, surrounded by really impressive green spaces.

“Peabody owns, operates and manages all of these areas so we’ve got overall control of everything that’s going on in the area and that has a real impact for not only the people we’re trying to bring to the area, but also existing residents.”

Beyond the infrastructure, Peabody is also working to boost the cultural capital of Thamesmead, perhaps best known for its Brutalist architecture.

This served as a backdrop to Stanley Kubrick’s dystopian cinematic nightmare A Clockwork Orange and, more recently, in the music video for The Libertines’ What Became Of The Likely Lads.

A show apartment at the development

Matt said: “We’ve got a huge programme that we’ve been operating for the last four or five years.

“That includes things like a regular one-day festival curated by local residents in Southmere Park, which attracted 6,500 visitors last year.

“People who may never have heard about the area or visited it are starting to hear about it and it’s starting to draw people in, which has been fantastic.

“We’ve also set up a culture forum so people living here can help shape what goes on locally.

“That’s grown and grown – we’ve supported theatre productions and a live performance of the film Beautiful Thing, which was made in Thamesmead a few years back.

“It’s these sort of things we want to do – grass-roots, community-led projects that are really accessible. 

“We’ve had dance troupes, drummers and gymnasts perform in housing estates – things that are visual and tangible that people from all backgrounds, young and old, can really enjoy.

“This year we have a project called Fields Of Everywhen, which will see two artists inflate and fly an enormous hot air balloon made from tapestries that capture the personal stories of local residents.

“They spent two years working on it and finding out what makes Thamesmead tick. These activities are being driven by Peabody and we’re here for the long term.

“We expect there to be around £10billion of investment in Thamesmead over the course of the 30-year plan.

“For example, with funding from the Greater London Authority, we’ve refurbished a building called the Lakeside Centre on Southemere Lake to provide artists’ studios, a cafe, a training kitchen and a nursery – that’s being operated by Bow Arts. 

“Next to that we’ll shortly be letting a contract to build a boating and sailing centre to be run by the YMCA, which has operated on the lake for 30 years.

“It’s about making sure we’re providing amenities for everybody to enjoy with activities like kayaking, sailing and paddleboarding. 

“Eventually we’d really like to open up the canal systems so people can use them to move around Thamesmead in addition to the cycle routes and pavements.”

The shared ownership properties set to be released at Crane Court offer prospective buyers open-plan living areas, balconies and floor-to-ceiling windows in distinctive brick-clad blocks within easy walking distance of Abbey Wood station.

“They will be fantastic places to live,” said Matt. “We’ve tried to maximise views over the lake and newly built Cygnet Square where people will have all the amenities they need on hand.

“There’s car parking in secure courtyards under the blocks with podium gardens that are communal but for residents only.

“There will also be an on-site concierge service with a residents’ lounge that people can use to work from if they choose.

“Combine that with the restaurants and cafes, which will be opening around the square later this year, and that will give people  a lot of flexibility if they’re not going into the office.

“I’ve already seen people logging into the Wi-fi on seats around the lake with their coffee and doing the first two hours while sitting by the water.”

When investing in property, there’s also the future to think of and Peabody has big plans for the wider area including an extensive development to the north west of Southmere along the banks of the Thames.

There it hopes to attract an extension to the DLR across the river from Gallions Reach, further boosting local connectivity – not a bad time to get in on the ground.

Prices for shared ownership properties at Crane Court start at £91,500 for 30% of a one-bed, based on a full market value of £305,000.

Two and three-beds start at £118,500 and £153,000 respectively for the same proportion, based on full market values of £395,000 and £510,000.

Read more: Estate agency Alex Neil hails booming market

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