Published on January 23, 2014 | by Tom Baker

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London’s public ping pong

Since 2010 London’s parks and squares have been enlivened by the appearance of public table tennis tables. Rolled out as part of the Ping! England project, the tables are completely free to use and you don’t even need to book. There are hundreds of tables nationwide, with more set to be added in 2014, subject to a successful funding bid.

Ping! was originally the brainchild of the participatory arts organisation Sing London, who are also responsible for the public pianos which appeared across London in 2009, and some of which can still be found across the city. According to Kelly O’Reilly of Sing, the idea of Ping! is to have something low key but high impact which brings people together and animates the public space of London.

Initial fears of vandalism and bat and ball theft proved unfounded, and Sing have proclaimed the scheme a huge success – Kelly O’Reilly reported hundreds of thousands of players but only four tables damaged in the four years since the project began. However, some councils do remove the bats and balls during the winter months, as the tables are used less and there are worries that people may slip and fall. Having visited five different tables this morning, I can certainly vouch for this to be true.

There’s a serious side to the project too, according to Karen Keech, the National Network Manager for the English Table Tennis Association. She explained that the project has grown the base of people playing table tennis across the England, which can only be a good thing for the sport at competitive and elite levels. Meanwhile, besides the addition of further tables in London, Sing is now encouraging people to construct DIY tables wherever they can, so that as many as people as possible get a slice of the fun.

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