Tennis mad Rita served up a New Year Honour

Rita Rhodes, pictured with husband Brian, has been awarded a BEM in the New Years Honours for her services to the community
Rita Rhodes, pictured with husband Brian, has been awarded a BEM in the New Years Honours for her services to the community

IT is game, set and match for a Welbeck lady who has been awarded a BEM in the New Year Honours for her services to the village community.

Rita Rhodes, 76, who has run Welbeck Tennis Club with husband Brian since the early 1990s, said she was ‘over the moon’ to have received the prestigious British Empire Medallist honour.

The couple also won the Guardian Rose last November for Services to Young People after they set up the club more than 20 years ago.

“I am really chuffed. It’s a real honour to have been nominated for this and nice to know that all the hard work you do is appreciated,” she said.

Rita and Brian moved to Welbeck from Sheffield in 1984 and soon began to forge strong links in the community.

And when Welbeck Estate owner William Parente wanted someone to take charge of some new tennis courts, he knew who to ask.

Former primary school teacher Rita had been playing tennis since a young age and her name was mentioned as someone who could set up a new club for the village.

Said Rita: “I was 10 when I first went on the tennis court with my dad and we all used to play with my 11 uncles in Sheffield for the Steel, Peech and Tozers club. I have always belonged to a tennis club in Sheffield, was secretary in Beighton for years and so was thrilled when asked if I could help set up a new one in Welbeck.”

“Brian and I set up the club in 1991 - it was a real challenge but we put in a lot of hard work over the years to make it what it is today.”

The club has gone from strength to strength over the years - starting with just 30 members and growing to around 200 in recent years.

Rita said the sporting fever of the 2012 Olympic Games definitely helped to encourage more people to take up tennis.

“We really got involved in the Bassetlaw Games which was absolutely brilliant - so many people came out to play. We also are very involved in visiting schools which helps to get young people into the sport,” she said.

Rita, who is also secretary at Welbeck Church and vice chair of governors at Cuckney Primary School, said she has no plans to step down any time soon from the tennis club.

“I just love helping kids no matter what their background or ability - I think everybody deserves to have a go,” she said. “There’s nothing nicer than seeing a little six-year-old get a ball over the net and count to 10 in a rally - that’s what it’s all about.”

She added: “I am looking forward to going to the Queen’s Garden Party in July - any excuse to buy a new outfit!”