When I meet Coral Warren she’s not been home long. 

It’s a Wednesday; that generally means badminton in the morning and singing with a choral group in the afternoon. 

As we meet, she’s still in fine voice, chatting comfortably about her life from a childhood in India, four years in the WRAF, living in Malaysia, and helping numerous people achieve their aspirations through her love of badminton. 

It is early January as she welcomes me into her cosy bungalow in Wymondham, just a few days after she was able to share news that after decades helping women with cancer through sport, she has been recognised with the British Empire Medal (BEM) in the New Year’s Honours List. 

Coral founded Sport Action for Women with and after Cancer in 1995, initially for those after breast cancer, and then for gynaecological and other cancers. 

“From there it snowballed over the years; I have had people who have had lung cancer, brain tumours, and lymphoma too,” said Coral, who was a professional badminton coach at Norwich Sport Village from when it opened in 1988 until its closure in 2006. 

Running ladies’ mornings, sessions for advanced players and children’s badminton, Coral continued with that, even with her own diagnosis of breast cancer in 1988. 

Eastern Daily Press:

Her late husband Clive, also an advanced coach, carried on her sessions until Coral came out of hospital and was well enough to resume the role. 

Yet it was a meeting with one particular lady - Lorraine Porter - that led to the formation of a group that would transform the lives of many women with cancer. 

Lorraine, she recalled, contacted her feeling tearful because she feared she would not be able to play badminton after having breast cancer. But Coral talked her through movements to prove that she could still enjoy the sport she loved. 

“Having had cancer myself, I was confident that I could get Lorraine playing again,” she said. “Clive and I were Badminton Association of England assessor tutors and advanced coaches and had taught people how to coach badminton for people with varying difficulties – people who were blind or deaf - and I felt I could help Lorraine.” 

Having demonstrated that it was possible for Lorraine to continue to play, it was her comments afterwards that triggered the start of the Sport Action group for women who had experienced cancer. 

“Lorraine said ‘I will remember this day for the rest of my life’, but I had only spent 10 minutes with her showing her how to adjust her game. That was the catalyst for what we did.” 

From an open day at the Sport Village, yoga and aquastretch classes were added to the badminton sessions and the groups grew and thrived. 

With the closure of Norwich Sport Village in 2006, classes moved to the UEA Sportspark and although Coral retired as a professional coach, she continued with the Sport Action group at UEA. 

As numbers grew other activities evolved, such as a choir. 

She explained that one badminton player was worried her husband would have nothing to occupy him after she died. That led to the man, a former music teacher, leading the group in singing Christmas carols and the formation of the Shades of Pink Choir, which is for women after breast cancer, but also encompasses husbands, supporters, family, and anyone who wants to sing popular songs. 

Coral remains delighted with what the group has since achieved, and continues to achieve. That support also turned full circle. 

“I have met some wonderful, inspirational people through the group, and when I have not been well or when Clive had cancer, they all rallied round to keep the group going, so I have probably had as much support from them as they have had from me.” 

She also recalls the support of retired anaesthetist Fodhla Taylor, who had lung cancer and spoke to Clive about his condition before his death, for her determination to continue to play badminton, even trying with an oxygen tank on her back. 

Following the announcement of her BEM, Coral told the group: “It is not for me, it is for people like you who have been so determined to get yourselves back on the road to recovery and have kept coming to the sessions as a beacon to any of the new people who have just been diagnosed, and giving them hope.” 

Delighted with the honour, she continued: “It came out of the blue, I am overwhelmed. It is lovely to get the recognition but, in my heart, I just want people to know that we are there as a group for them.” 

Eastern Daily Press:

Some members have been attending for 20 years, but she stresses the group is now as important as ever, particularly with numbers dwindling as a result of the enforced break during the coronavirus pandemic. 

“I very strongly feel that while Covid stopped us running, cancer did not stop. It is the people who suffered cancer during Covid that I want to get the message out to, and that we are here for them and have started up again.” 

Coral’s journey to badminton coach and organiser of Sport Action has been fascinating in itself. 

“I had always wanted to learn to play badminton because I had heard about this game in India, where I was born. My elder sisters used to go off and play and come back and talk about it but they said I was too young to play, so it was always beyond my reach.” 

Her parents Basil and Norien were in India during Raj period at Khargpur, not far from Calcutta. She spent nine months of the year in boarding school, initially in Calcutta until it came under attack during World War II, and then Nagpur in Central India before moving to the Himalayas in Mussoorie in 1946. 

“I only saw my family, my two sisters and a brother, at Christmas.” 

Her father was a design engineer on the railway network before the family returned to England in 1948 soon after India’s independence, when she was 10, and settled in Kent. 

Her first introduction to badminton came when she was living in Malaysia, where Clive had been posted with the RAF. 

“I told Clive how I had always wanted to learn badminton, so he found a coach willing to coach me,” she said. 

Eastern Daily Press:

“Tai Kuan Tai was Chinese and worked with me voluntarily and while I loved the game his attitude was ‘you work, I coach’, as a beginner, I was so bad and had to learn the complete basics.” 

After a year, Kuan Tai entered her into the Penang Open Championships, where she recalled being “thrashed”. But the following year - 1966 - she reached the doubles semi-final and won the mixed doubles final and became a senior player. 

On returning to the UK, Coral focused on passing on her badminton knowledge as a county badminton coach and assessor. 

“I have to blame my daughter, Sandra, for starting it,” said Coral. “When she was nine, she asked me to teach her to play badminton at her junior school.” 

Using the school facilities, she ended up teaching Sandra and other pupils - some of whom went on to play for the county - but Coral also felt she should gain a formal coaching qualification. 

“I was happy to give my coaching freely as I felt I was giving back to that man who gave it to me for nothing.” 

Eastern Daily Press:

It was their service with the WRAF and RAF that had brought Coral and Clive together. 

When she was 14, and a member of the Sea Rangers in Kent, a retired naval officer taught Coral morse code. 

“I became very interested in morse and radiotelegraphy in the Sea Rangers and did the semaphore, and decided there and then I wanted to be in signals.” 

Later, when she joined the WRAF in 1955, her first posting was at the RAF Sandwich radar station, before she was despatched to Norfolk where she served at RAF Coltishall and RAF Horsham St Faith. 

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“I had come from a successful amateur dramatic group at Sandwich so I started one at Horsham St Faith, where there was a disused cinema which we revamped as a theatre.” 

They staged a production of the comedy Queen Elizabeth Slept Here. 

“Clive was a person I knew very little about, but the person who was supposed to play one of the lead roles opposite me was posted to Germany three weeks before the show went on. “Someone said ‘why don’t you ask Bunny Warren’, and he agreed. He had difficulty remembering his lines and it was a comedy anyway but that is how we got to know each other.” 

Later, her de-mob party at the Black Swan in North Walsham was combined with Clive’s 21st birthday and a leaving do for someone being posted to Germany. 

“All our courting was done after I left the RAF,” explained Coral. “I went back home to Dartford and he travelled to see me in Kent.” 

Coral joined ICI in the company’s telex department and after the year of courting, she and Clive married in 1960 and settled in Norfolk. 

The couple lived in Wymondham in a bungalow designed by Clive for most of their married life, settling with sons Simon and Daniel, and daughter Sandra. Coral still lives in the town. 

After working for a printing company in Wymondham, Coral taught badminton at Breckland Sports Centre in Thetford and for adult education classes. 

Eastern Daily Press:

Always keen for her pupils to advance and progress into badminton clubs, she has now been coaching for 50 years after those early lessons at her daughter’s school. 

As the coaching progressed, Coral gained further qualifications - with Clive - to become advanced coaches in 1980 for Badminton England and NVQ assessors in 1982, coaching around the country. 

“One of the highlights of our coaching was going to Bermuda for three weeks to coach badminton to turn Bermudian badminton players into coaches in 1982.” 

Having coached players who have gone on to achieve success in the sport and played for the county, she also returned to Penang after 26 years for a reunion with Tai Kuan Tai. 

When Clive died in 2015, she re-registered as an advanced badminton coach and again became a selector and coach to county players, while continuing the Sports Action group. 

With four badminton courts available at UEA for the 90-minute sessions, there is a capability for the group to cater for up to 24 players. 

But Coral, who is now 85, is hopeful that younger people will take on the running of the group and even take coaching awards to keep it going once she steps back. 

Having been awarded a BEM after overcoming cancer and running the support group, Coral regularly returned throughout our conversation to the inspirational women she has met through the group and over her life. 

Now, with the BEM, it is her that is being recognised as truly inspirational. 


Sport Action for Women with or after Cancer meets every Wednesday at the UEA Sportspark for badminton from 9.45-11.30am and yoga from 10.30-11.30am, with tea and coffee afterwards. The Shades of Pink choir gathers on a Wednesday afternoon (1- 2.30pm) at the Willow Tea Rooms, Roundhouse Way, Cringleford, Norwich. For details, contact UEA Sportspark, or email sportact21@gmail.com