THOSE with an adversity to steep hills may not know Dowling Street in Old Town very well.
Tucked about halfway up is a unassuming red brick former church hall. If not for the small sign on the outside, no one would know that on the inside is a thriving sports club and a hive of activity.
This is Wessex Squash Club, a members-run and owned squash club that has been at Dowling Street since 1977. Inside are three squash courts and a bar with a viewing gallery where spectators can watch the club’s three teams take on their local rivals in the Wiltshire Squash League. A token competition this is not. This a good standard of squash, with players such as county champion Adam Giles representing Wessex.
The winter squash league is currently nearing its conclusion and with one fixture remaining Wessex have a chance to win the top division, with their other two teams fighting hard in the second and third divisions.
Wessex is in a period of development. With a team in all divisions of the Wiltshire league they’re able to offer different levels of competitive squash to those interested in competing for the club. The club’s internal ladder decides the teams. There is not currently a fully fledged junior section but, with three teams and the club’s ladder as they are, a pathway for the juniors into senior squash exists.
Club captain Dean Watkins is optmistic about the club’s future especially with with regards to young players.
“We’ve got about five juniors at the Wessex, we’ve got three county champions in different age groups, under 13s under 15s and under 17s,” said Watkins.
“We’re building up our juniors for senior stuff. We’ve kid now who’s 14, Todd Bennett, who’s been playing in the Wiltshire League since he was 12.”
The club wants to develop a dedicated youth section. It is something the club has had in the past but first team player Neil Marshman gave up his coaching duties last summer and new coach Paul Bennett is looking to start getting in juniors for Saturday sessions.
If possible, Watkins would like to provide more than just a place for juniors to play.
“There isn’t currently a Wiltshire squash league for juniors, we’d like to develop one if possible,” he said. “We want juniors to start playing and juniors to play in these tournaments.”
The idea is get them playing competitive squash and feed them into the senior sides, with the ultimate goal of expanding the club from three teams to four.
Given the club’s current stature it’s hard to believe that in 1997 it nearly collapsed.
Having been in existence for 20 years the decline in popularity of the sport was beginning to takes its toll and, when the owner abandoned the club, three members had to step in and save it, making it a members ‘club and refurbishing the facilities.
Wessex is now one of the best squash facilities in the area, and plays host to other tournaments outside of league play, most imminently the county over 35s tournament on April 12th.
Aside from the competitive stuff, Wessex is open to casual members and the club has a strong social element. It’s actually encoded into the league that food and drink must be provided for the opposition but other non-playing members are often found offering support from the viewing platform and sticking around after for a social.
“It’s friendly support and a bit of banter,” says Watkins.
Wessex are always looking for new members and anyone interested in joining should visit the club’s website www.wessexsquashclub.com.