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Wimbledon means business

‘Wimbledon’ is recognised the world over – not as a leafy suburb of London but as the home of The Championships, the British Grand Slam, run by the All England Lawn Tennis Club. Founded in 1877, it is the oldest slam, as well as – in the opinion of many – the most prestigious. This is despite the fact that it is played on a surface – grass – that rarely features anywhere else

The Championships are also a huge economic success bringing in hundreds of million pounds to the UK, the majority of which comes into Greater London. Last summer London Chamber of Commerce and Industry (LCCI) spoke of Wimbledon’s “huge role in the capital’s economy” and the footfall associated with the period “contributing to business across London”.

Why is it so successful? Perhaps it is a mixture of sticking to tradition and yet never standing still. When there was pressure, some years ago, to ‘bow to the inevitable’ and move to a more-regularly played surface, the club held firm. The result is that ‘Wimbledon’ remains the answer given by top players to the question: if you could win just one grand slam, which one would it be?

Equally important though is the constant upgrading of facilities and conditions. The day after the Championships end, work starts on ground improvements for the next one. The current plans for development take this approach up a considerable notch and are due to be considered by the Mayor of London this summer.

In a nutshell, AELTC is expanding the Championships into adjacent land – a former golf club whose lease it now owns – on which it will build 38 grass courts and a ‘show’ court, essentially one down from Centre and No.1 courts, and create a new, 23 acre park surrounding Wimbledon Park lake.

The new courts would enable pre-tournament qualifying matches to take place on site, and provide practice courts during the championships themselves, both of which are valued features of other major tournaments. Newly-created entrances to the enlarged ground will also ease the pressure on queuing – seen by some as part of the charm of the tournament but which would be even more charming if queuing times were cut!

This aspect of the development chimes with the first of the club’s two core objectives, namely “to maintain The Championships at the pinnacle of sport”. The second one is “to provide year-round substantial public benefit” to the local community, and much effort has been put into how to achieve this. The park is promised to feature outdoor learning trails, a de-culverted brook, and a boardwalk around the entire lake – itself being restored. Seven grass courts will be available for community use.

Over 6,000 people have attended consultation events and 100 guided tours of the proposed public parkland have been organised. The club is proud of the sustainability elements of the proposals and points to approving opinions from Historic England, The Garden’s Trust, London Wildlife Trust, and Natural England. Given that the terrain has been described as “rare, urban Capability Brown parkland” this is an important issue. Moreover it is estimated that there will be an overall environmental net gain of 10 per cent.

Major projects like this don’t come cheaply and – according to some unconfirmed reports – the costs may exceed £100 million. Nor do they happen overnight. If approved in its current form, the enhanced model of the grounds won’t be totally realised until the early 2030s, the new show court being the final part of the application.

It is estimated that the plans, if approved, would provide an annual benefit to London of £296 million, with the total UK-wide economic impact to reach £480 million. And, if there was any doubt, Wimbledon would remain the tournament every top tennis player would target to compete in… and hope to win.


This article is from London Business Matters Magazine: May/June 2024