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BOB HALL: People behind the revival of ancient sports

PUBLISHED: 10:45 28 July 2008 | UPDATED: 15:15 07 September 2010

AS part of planning for the future, management plans for the open spaces in North London for which the City of London is responsible (two of which are Hampstead Heath and Highgate Wood) aim to improve and extend future use of these areas by present and ne

AS part of planning for the future, management plans for the open spaces in North London for which the City of London is responsible (two of which are Hampstead Heath and Highgate Wood) aim to improve and extend future use of these areas by present and new users.

The extension of sporting activities is already occurring at Hampstead Heath. Attempts have been made over years to develop a croquet lawn at Hampstead Heath, but without success.

Late last year, however, discussions commenced with Ian Harrison, a member of the Heath consultative committee, and Gabrielle Higgins, a local croquet player, to try to develop a lawn on the Heath. An area adjacent to the tennis courts in Golders Hill Park was identified, which, whilst not ideal, provided a space to assess interest.

The result has been remarkable. Over 40 people took part in the opening event. In particular, Phil Cordingley, who lives locally and just happens to be the current chairman of the International Croquet Committee, wrote a very useful introductory guide to the game of croquet. In addition, Richard Hilditch, another very experienced croquet manager, gave his support. Hampstead Heath Croquet Club has been formed, and Mr Cordingley is running a number of coaching sessions. Two more will be held from 6-8 pm on Wednesdays August 6 and 20. If you are interested, come along and try your luck.

Boules (properly known as petanque) is also developing. A petanque facility has existed at Parliament Hill Fields by the Highgate Road entrance for years, but has been rather under-used. Bruce Rowlands, a local enthusiast, has however taken up the challenge and offered to try to breathe life into the game. An open petanque event was organised in the first week of May when over 80 people attended and until the end of August, free sessions are available on Saturday and Sunday afternoons. There have been as many as 45 petanquers at such sessions. Go and bowl a boule!

As those who visit Highgate Wood will know, sporting activities are not confined to the Heath. The large open field is used intensively all year, and in the summer particularly for cricket.

Users range from schools to clubs, and since the mid 1980s by a club now known as Metro. You may not think this remarkable until you realise that the members of Metro are blind or partially sighted. The brilliant test cricket commentator Brian Johnston was president of the club for many years, and the sport has gone from strength to strength. The colour contrast provided by the trees at Highgate Wood is very helpful to partially sighted players.

Metro had eight members of the English squad of 17 that reached the semi-final of the last World Cup. They have four of the current English team players, including the England captain, as well as the former English coach and a former English captain. It was the first blind side to give a demonstration at both Lord's and the Oval, and in 1998 gave a demonstration of blind cricket at Newlands in Cape Town.

Metro's self-deprecating humour is catching. They used to play all their matches at Regent's Park, but in the words of Mike Brace, the chief executive of 2020UK, they became "increasingly frustrated with people not taking our game seriously, and frequently play was stopped not because of rain but because a couple would plonk themselves down on our pitch and begin their picnic. It was not bad for the partially sighted when they chased a ball toward the boundary and fell flat on a bikini-clad female. We used to play with a large size five football so they may have been forgiven for not realising it was serious".

I can only say that Highgate Wood is greatly privileged to be the home of such an inspirational club and team, whose humour and candour is remarkable. We do hope that they will be there for at least another 25 years.

Finally, whilst on the subject of sporting activities, a further comment needs to be added to my piece recently on cross-country running on the Heath. My genuine apologies to David Bedford (who now masterminds the London marathon and is a trustee of Heath Hands) for not mentioning his extraordinary achievement on the Heath in 1969 when, representing Shaftesbury Harriers, he won the Southern Counties junior title over two laps (six miles), and then half an hour later went on to win the senior title over three laps. Remarkable!

Bob Hall is chairman

of Hampstead Heath

Management Committee

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