The Medway Badminton Association was founded as an unincorporated voluntary organisation more than sixty years ago.
Details of its actual formation have been lost over the course of time but it is believed that thoughts of forming the Association existed prior to World War II, only to be deferred pending cessation of hostilities.
What is known is that the first Annual General Meeting was held in 1948. It commenced as an association of badminton clubs in the Medway Towns of Chatham, Gillingham and Rochester. Its purpose was to provide a representative structure for grass roots badminton and to foster competition between local clubs.
The Association’s first formal event was to hold an annual ‘inter club’ tournament. In reality, it was more of a competition between prominent players from the few clubs that existed at the time.
One such player was the late Warwick Shute, whose name appears on numerous occasions from 1946/7 onwards as a cup winner. He played for Kent and went on to captain the England team. Up to his death, in 1996, he maintained a keen interest in the sport, not only as a highly skilled coach, but as President of the Association.
The Medway League
An inter club competition to be played throughout the Winter months emerged in the early 1950s. Initially intended to attract clubs based in the Medway towns it rapidly expanded to embrace clubs located in Gravesend, Maidstone and Sittingbourne. Venues for badminton matches ranged from single court church and village halls to drill halls and industrial premises with up to four courts.
Activity within the League peaked in the 1970s when entries were received from as far West as the Kent boundary with London and as far East as Margate. Today the league is of a more modest size but remains one of the larger ones in the county with 1 ladies, 3 mens, 3 mixed divisions and a small combination division. Usually 22 or more clubs are represented by about 50 teams.
Whilst the Medway League has been the backbone over many years of Association activity, other events such as weekend tournaments, the Rochester Cup Competition and a Summer League are promoted. A strong junior section with professional coaching has also been developed. The Medway Junior Club has received ‘Badminton Premier Club’ recognition from the B.A. of E.
The development of the Association in the 1970s with all its responsibilities, particularly with those related to the complexities of operating a new badminton facility in Castlemaine Hall, raised questions about forming a limited company. This was fully discussed with the Association’s solicitors and the former trustees were consulted. Opinions obtained indicated that it could be advantageous and measures were taken to implement a proposal at the 35th Annual General Meeting of the unincorporated Association in July 1983.
The AGM approved a draft Memorandum and Articles of Association and, following further consultation with its solicitors, the Association was formally incorporated as a non-profit making company limited by guarantee on 23rd September 1983. This introduced a significant change. Hitherto the Associationwas an association of clubs. Now it became an association of individual members, and so it remains today.
The expansion of local badminton in the 1960s and early 1970s encouraged thoughts of finding a home for the Association. For many years administration had been spread between the homes of a few prominent members. The then Gillingham Borough Council was approached and a derelict factory site next to an open pit behind Castlemaine Avenue was offered. Although not exactly ideal, this was the only prospect available.
Plans were drawn up by an Association member and the search for funds began. They drifted in. The project was finally underpinned by grants from the Sports Council and the National Playing Fields Association and loans were received from the Borough Council, the County Badminton Association (KCBA), Kent Playing Fields Association, the Badminton Association of England (BA of E), the Ravensbourne Badminton Association and Whitbreads. Small donations and loans were also received from affiliated members.
Work commenced early in 1974 with much needed help from the Royal Engineers and a small army of enthusiastic members.
The four court Castlemaine Hall rapidly took shape and on completion was formally opened by the Mayor of Gillingham in September 1974.
It was an instant attraction. Several local clubs made it their headquarters and it became a venue for inter County matches, weekend tournaments, individual and group coaching, adult education and local schools without facilities of their own. Growing confidence in the success of the project led to the initial 25 year ground lease being extended in 1979 to 99 years.
Although the hall was not built to the standards of today and constraints in its construction were necessary as a consequence of underfunding, its use has held up reasonably well. The recession of the late 1980’s had an adverse impact and education related users disappeared. Even the clubs suffered a decline in membership and court use reduced. Nevertheless, interest from new users and participation in Local Authority initiatives helped recovery and court bookings stabilised.
At various times since construction thoughts have focused on extending the Hall to provide additional courts and generally to improve facilities. Nothing transpired as sources of funding always presented an insuperable problem. Moreover, site conditions hardly lend themselves to economic solutions.
By 1997 upgrading of the electrical system and playing hall lights could no longer be deferred. With the aid of some lottery money, a Kent County Council grant, some Association funding and a loan from the KCBA work was undertaken in the following year.
These measures enabled the Hall to continue to function but did not satisfy the urgent need for heating in the playing hall, an office and a meeting room. The lighting installed in 1998 soon proved unsatisfactory and difficult to maintain.
In 2003 the Community Club Development Programme administered by Sport England with assistance from the National Governing Bodies of Sport was launched. The Association immediately saw it as a source of possible funding. Castlemaine Hall met all the criteria for making an application and one was hastily submitted.
Enthusiastic support from the B.A. of E. and Kent Badminton Ltd. led to funding for a major project to refurbish the Hall. This not only embraced the needs stated earlier, but also included a new playing surface for the courts and lighting more suited to the game of badminton. The scheme completed in 2005 cost nearly Â£230,000 with the Association contributing approximately one-fifth.
Castlemaine Hall is now formally recognised by the B.A. of E. as a ‘Performance and Development Centre’ and has been identified for inclusion in a list of potential venues to serve as pre-games bases for overseas teams in the 2012 Olympic Games.
Castlemaine Hall has the benefit of a 99 year ground lease with 69 years remaining before termination or renewal. Badminton in North Kent therefore has an assured base. The future rests firmly in the continuing sound management of the Association and its ability to weather economic changes and fluctuations in badminton activity.
As a Performance and Development Centre the challenge is to optimise its use and to seek an appropriate balance between the various, and often conflicting, demands for court time. This is a healthy situation for the Association. However, it is observed that some areas of demand show signs of waning whilst others seek to grow. It remains unsatisfactory that thriving activities have to be constrained to satisfy the needs of others.
The Hall will continue as the principal venue for the operation of the Medway League and other competitive events. It is also expected to serve as a headquarters for local clubs. However, any decline in club activity may be seen as an opportunity for the Association to consider formalising its own senior club. The bones of this exist in terms of Association members, who do not belong to a local club or who regularly play independently of their clubs. What is lacking is a suitable structure to satisfy different needs. In this context it is important for the future of the game and for the Association that young players leaving the junior club have somewhere to go.
The allocation of court time at peak periods is likely to remain a problem for management. Whilst efforts will be made to maximise use during off-peaks, it is expected that the nature of the working week will determine the level of use. Significant gaps in usage are likely to continue weekday afternoons and some mornings. Now that more local schools enjoy their own facilities, educational use is a fading prospect.
The problem of peak time demands can be resolved, at least in part, by having more courts. The Hall has unused land to the rear and to one side. If sources of funding emerge again and the circumstances for further development are found to be acceptable, Hall extension could become a real prospect.
Derek G. Jackson, October 2008.
Information relating to the Medway League, membership of the Association, the Medway Junior Club, resident clubs and other Association activities can be obtained from Castlemaine Hall by telephoning 01634 572187 or by e-mailing the association