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St Bees introduces Eton Fives in China

Howard Wiseman reports:

03/07/23: Many British schools have set up overseas schools in recent years under their brand.

Many of them are of course famous schools who play Eton Fives. It has always seemed strange that none of them have yet built courts, which would cement such a deliberate sporting link to the parent school through this quintessentially British sport.

Well, St Bees have done it!

They have built two beautiful indoor Eton Fives courts in their new school in Dongguan, in South-East China. They have chosen Eton Fives for a number of reasons. It has a very small footprint, which was essential with limited space available. They also needed an all-weather covered/indoor sport; one that avoided the increased pitfalls of contact sports in schools. St Bees had also identified Eton Fives as the best cross-training sport they had ever seen; one that would benefit all other sports due to the ambidexterity and quick reactions required. This decision also created a direct link back to a traditional English sport, as found at the parent school, St Bees in Cumbria, as well as many of the most famous schools in the UK. This will be the most valuable marketing tool for St Bees Dongguan, as they will use participation in Fives to travel each year to the UK and enjoy the sport alongside some of the most famous schools in the world. They can also potentially provide the most wonderful experience for British schools wishing to go to China to visit them. Fives will also be used as the common denominator when they visit St Bees, Cumbria. For this foresight and vision, we have Laurence Gribble to thank, the Assistant Headmaster of St Bees in Cumbria. The plan is to open numerous schools all over China under the St Bees brand and Eton Fives will be the one sport that connects them all. With pupils coming together, not just from from China, they will all discover a sport together that is new to them all, and that will set a level playing field for interaction between the students and staff alike.

So, St Bees Dongguan. The courts are lovely… a beautiful space with clean smooth floors that you would expect at an airport terminal! A terrific run off with room for notice boards and seating. I was kept busy across two days, teaching non-stop with enthusiastic girls, boys and teachers. None of the teachers had played before; and they loved it. The Games teacher, Julio; a footballer and boxer from Brazil, absolutely loved it, and whenever there were no students around, we were busy going through coaching routines and fun development training games and challenges that would stimulate players of all abilities. Teachers, marketing team, HR and office staff all came together to have a go; they kept coming back for more! The plan is for there to be a weekly sociable staff session. The fantastic Headmaster, Lee Knight, was on court for much of both days and is looking forward very much to bringing St Bees Fives players to the UK as part of their educational experience.

What a success this has been so far, and how exciting this promises to be for the future!

Congratulations to St Bees for this pioneering move.


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