A judo coach who was laid off during the pandemic has bounced back by launching his own sessions for Teesside youngsters.
Lockdowns saw the sport halted like dozens of others last year.
Coach Phil Hornby has hosted classes out of Low Grange Community Centre, in Billingham, and a raft of other venues on Teesside for many years.
But the virus crisis saw him placed on furlough before he was eventually let go by the British Judo Association in October.
Now the 50-year-old is back – with his Aspire Judo Academy hosting sessions for four to 17-year-olds this week in Ingleby Barwick, Guisborough, Coulby Newham, Redcar, Norton, and Billingham.
His return was hailed at “heartening” by leaders at Billingham community partnership on Tuesday.
Mr Hornby said he’d had to turn people away before the crisis put paid to sessions.
After being made redundant, he sent emails out to parents to gauge interest in starting up his own classes.
But he also revealed he’d been forced to find another line of work before launching the academy this week.
“I had to get a job to keep me going in the meantime,” added Mr Hornby.
“I was delivering furniture around the country.
“We started back up on Monday night in Guisborough.”
The club’s return was retold to a partnership meeting on Tuesday as efforts to fill community centres across Billingham continue.
Chairman James Hadman said buildings run by BELP (Billingham Environmental Link Partnership) were the “busiest they’d ever been” at the moment.
He added: “We’ve got most of the old bookings back and we’ve generated loads of new business so there’s loads going on – especially new stuff.
“Low Grange had a British Judo session for quite a long time and it was really popular with families.
“But during lockdown British Judo made all their staff redundant so we lost that session.
“Thankfully, one of the guys who ran the sessions has set himself up as self employed which is really good.
“It’s a full morning session which has captured loads of young people.”
Mr Hornby has kept hold of six centres and Billingham was one of his most successful clubs.
The certified level 2 coach lives in Ingleby Barwick and was thrilled to be back.
“It’s been absolutely amazing and so good to be back on a judo mat,” he added.
“We’ve had such a good response since we started advertising.
“We’ve had 120 kids come back from people who used to come to my clubs – and we must have had 100 enquiries for new kids to come along as well.
“It’s just been unbelievable – we’ve been run off our feet.
“My partner Rachael has been a massive help to me who’s been doing a lot of the admin while I’ve been at work as well, as working for the NHS herself.”
To sign up for Teesside Live news updates, go here
Free taster sessions are available for those who want to try it – with a charge of £20 a month and free judo suits when members join.
For more information go to the Aspire Judo website.