There was no stopping Clare Wood in her charge to be number one as a tennis professional, but this summer has involved a lot more than delivering an ace or two!
Twenty three years since mixing it with the world’s best at the Wimbledon Tennis Championships, Clare has been involved in a completely different challenge in SW19 by clocking up the hours for the Dons Local Action Group. The last few months have certainly been far removed from her usual routine of travelling around the world as a Tour Supervisor for the WTA (Women's Tennis Association), but Clare has relished the opportunity to make a difference in the community.
“Once everything gets back to normal again I will be back on my travels and working at the highest level of the game,” said Clare. “It takes me around the world and it’s something I really enjoy. Whatever I set myself up to do I put all my effort into it, whether that’s playing tennis, or delivering boxes through the Dons Local Action Group. I take pride in everything I do and I do things to the best of my ability, no matter what it is.
“I had actually signed up to help at other places, but there seemed to be enough volunteers, so I was feeling a bit helpless! Then my friend who is a member at Old Ruts said they needed people to help at the Dons Local Action Group, so I got in touch and I was immediately put on the list to deliver food to people’s homes. I also signed up to the roster for the supermarkets as well. I’ve regularly been doing four shifts, two lots of deliveries a week, and two shifts outside the supermarkets.
“It’s amazing to see what it means to people and they are very grateful to us. At the beginning of lockdown when times were really tough some of the people we delivered to would even cry because they were so grateful to receive food. For me, it was heartbreaking in a way, but also heart-warming to know that we had given people a bit of comfort, especially for the older people who found it very difficult to be isolated. As well as providing food for them, it meant a lot for them to talk to someone at a time when they were stuck indoors. I always I wished I could have done more, but the bit I was able to contribute felt really worthwhile and rewarding.”
With her lifelong passion for tennis, Clare is not a football fan, but her involvement with Dons Local Action means that she could soon be visiting another sporting venue in SW19 – our new stadium in Plough Lane!
Clare said: “I wouldn’t call myself a football fan, but my work with the Dons Local Action Group means I will be an AFC Wimbledon ‘super-fan’ after this! I’ve been proudly wearing the Dons T-shirts when I’ve been volunteering. People in the local community should be very thankful for the efforts that so many people have put in to help them. There’s been a great spirit amongst the volunteers at the Dons Local Action Group and everyone has been so friendly. I will 100 per cent visit Plough Lane to watch a match and I will be telling a few others to come along too!
The former British tennis number one will certainly be most welcome to come along and sample a match day at Plough Lane. As a Southfields resident, Clare has previously become accustomed to seeing tennis fans swarming towards the All England Club every year, but when football returns to Merton crowds will be making their way towards our spiritual home.
“At this time of year, it’s been really strange driving up and down Church Road and not seeing crowds and crowds of people everywhere. Also, you miss watching Wimbledon on TV, so it’s been quite an unusual two weeks.
“I last played at Wimbledon in 1997, so it was a long time ago now! I played on the professional tour for around 10 years. To be number one was a very privileged ranking to have because at that time I had shown I was the best in the country. I was also in the top 100 in singles and the top 50 in doubles. I once managed to beat Mary Pierce, who was ranked in the world top-10 and won Grand Slams. I’m proud of what I achieved as a professional player and I don’t think you really appreciate it when you are in the moment playing. When you stop playing you look back and think that it was an amazing career to have. To travel the world and earn money playing a sport that you love was a real privilege. I had a very fulfilling career.”
Before returning to her sports passion and working for the LTA, Clare will continue to give her all for the Dons Local Action Group.
“I’ve also been helping at the Sainsbury’s store at Southside, Wandsworth,” Clare added. “I’ve been working with other volunteers at the food collection point there. We set the tables up at the start of the day and pack the food boxes to get them ready for collection. We also encourage shoppers to maybe put a few extra items in their trollies, so that they can donate.
“Volunteering is something you do because you want to do it. You really feel that you are benefiting those people who are unable to go shopping, or those unable to get out and about to pick things up. It hasn’t been too challenging, it’s just been more rewarding, and it gives you a feeling that you are making a bit of a difference.”
Can you help the Dons Local Action Group to continue its fantastic work? If so, please get in touch by contacting 020 3301 4511 or e-mail DLAGvolunteer@afcwimbledonfoundation.org.uk . Let us know how you would prefer to help, or the DLAG will put you where you are most needed.