“AS I’VE got older I’ve found it harder and harder to get out of bed in the morning - exercise helps me keep those joints moving.”

At 88 Michael Shepherd is one of the oldest members of Ilkley Lawn Tennis & Squash Club. He is a regular visitor to the club’s fitness centre where he enjoys using the gym.

“It helps me to maintain my mobility,” he says. “It’s also the closest thing I get to going out these days, so the human contact is very important to me.

“I love chatting to the staff and the regulars on a morning. It’s so nice to see familiar faces who know your name, and who greet me when I arrive.”

The club tennis dates back to 1880, opening only six years after the game was first patented by its supposed inventor, Welshman Major Walter Clopton Wingfield.

To the players of that day, the club would be unrecognisable. Over the decades it has developed into a premier racket sports facility covering tennis, squash and racketball.

Its facilities include five indoor courts, six all-weather floodlit courts and five squash and racketball courts.

The Stourton Road club is lesser-known for its fitness centre, which is attracting members from the local area and beyond.

Says general manager Adam Della Rocca: “The club has continued to grow in the last decade, with the expansion of a state-of-the art fitness centre, two fitness studios and a large clubhouse with changing rooms, and sauna.”

A complete redevelopment in 2016 saw the expansion of the fitness centre and two fitness studios.

“Ilkley needed a top-class gym and fitness studios and now it has one,” says Adam. “We have not looked back.”

The facility is stocked with the latest Technogym cardiovascular equipment and a huge range of free weights.

A spin studio hosts up to 20 people per class, spanning all times of day and night. “It is really popular,” says Adam. “We also have a larger studio with classes such as pilates, yoga, bodypump, Metafit and many more.

“The studios boast the best views in Yorkshire with the backdrop of Ilkley Moor viewable from the glass- fronted second floor.”

Serving club members and the public, is the popular SERVE Café. “It offers the best views in Ilkley, overlooking the grass courts and the Cow & Calf,” adds Adam.

Pre-pandemic the club had around 2,400 members. “Membership is still recovering from the forced closing due to the pandemic,” said Adam. “We have a diverse range of members from every group, from our youngest tennis juniors to some octogenarian rackets and fitness members.

“The majority of our members are from the local area, with others from Skipton and Harrogate.”

Tracy Collins, 31, kept active throughout lockdown, but was eager to return to the gym.

“I have done exercise classes on Zoom and even started running and cycling with my husband, but nothing beats training with others in a class, side by side with other people who want to see the same physical changes that I do,” she says.

“Even if I am not feeling up for a hard workout there are other people alongside me wanting to push themselves and have a laugh while doing it. I missed using the weights at the gym as that’s something I couldn’t do at home, which I’ve noticed changes the way you look.”

The club’s fitness Team offered Zoom classes throughout lockdown, relaying encouragement and advice to keep everyone involved.

“When we reopened the outdoor courts, they were full all day,” says Adam. “The excitement was palpable. We had outdoor fitness classes and spin classes on an outdoor terrace - all were full. As we have been able to open more, we have seen people eagerly return to their sporting activities.”

He adds: “During lockdown many people found out just how important exercise is for mental health. Some maintained their activity levels throughout both lockdowns, but they were the minority. People fell out of habits they had formed and tried to create new ones, with little or no success.

“Social interaction was a huge part of the drive behind why people came to the club, and without this people really struggled to become enthusiastic about exercise alone - that’s where instructors are worth their weight in gold.”

“A lot of members told us how much steady state cardio they did in the form of long walks or bike rides but the second lockdown during winter saw these become less and less.”

The main thing people missed was the weights element to their training. Explains Adam: “Lean muscle is key for everyday life and also vital for effective body fat loss, so this is an area in which we have seen huge growth in participation since everyone returned.”

More than 20 staff work at the club. “This includes class instructors, personal trainers, rackets coaches and café and operations staff,” says Adam.

Says health and fitness manager Marcus Whitehead: "It's fantastic to see the return of so many familiar faces to the club as well as many new members joining, in a bid to regain their fitness.

"The gym is vital for many people's mental health. Everyone missed the feeling that comes with a great workout. The return to the club has been slow and tentative but we are gradually getting back up to the numbers we had pre lockdown."

During lockdown the grounds and operations team gave the club a facelift.

"The whole building was redecorated and we knocked through into the squash court adjoining the gym to create individual workout pods where our members could workout," says Adam.

Adds Marcus: "The extra space has been received really well. It is lovely to have a buzz about the place again and see everyone regaining their lost fitness levels."