The Stamford Mercury

Bob Warters writes in the April 3 issue.....

Future of bowls locally


The nationwide prospects for the game of outdoor bowls is under threat. Not only are the vast majority of its participants in the Over 70 'vulnerable and at risk' category (over 80 per-cent in some clubs) likely to be affected by the coronavirus pandemic but they need the activity and companionship which bowls provides to stimulate them through later life.


In his continuing survey of the game of outdoor bowls and how it is affecting local clubs, former publisher of Bowls International, Bob Warters, himself a Stamford League player talks to some of the decision makers in the game and how they see its future.




John Innes, fixture secretary at Barnack and vice chairman of Stamford League was part of the executive who decided to cancel all league fixtures for the 2020 season in view of the government restrictions on social gatherings.


"It was a major decision by our committee at the Stamford Outdoor Bowls League at the time but not one we made lightly. We put a lot of thought into it but decided under the circumstances it was inevitable.


"At Barnack we have cancelled everything currently - casual bowling, social events, friendlies, club competitions. There is a complete lack of revenue coming in but we aim to review our position at the end of June.


"If the national situation has stabilised and government health and safety rules are observed we may be able to re-open in July, August and September."


Barnack has been fortunate in being able to generate added revenue from hosting potential bowlers from the local U3A organisation, which attracts sometimes as many as 50 bowlers to each of their twice-weekly daytime  sessions but which are currently on hold.


In order to generate quick revenue, Barnack aims to organise impromptu friendlies at home and away against other clubs suffering similar financial plight, once restrictions are lifted.


" At least we can all start collecting green fees again, which will help, " he says.


" My concern is for the financial stability of all local outdoor bowls clubs. Some may decide 'that's it!  We will have to give up.' But even with a shorter season others may consider it as a challenge and will fight to survive."




David Ashby is the chairman of Bourne Town Bowls Club and under his leadership, the club has transformed its fortunes, more than doubling its membership to 90 and is closing in on extending its clubhouse with a £100,000 refurbishment.


"It will not only be a facility for our regular bowlers but provide for the disabled, carer groups and the visually impaired, " he said. "We still need £40,000 but even in this current climate we are confident we can get it."


Thanks chiefly to an intensive recruitment campaign, which included attracting dozens from the local U3A group, the club has also embarked on a membership support scheme, which includes a weekly newsletter and making sure members are not forgotten in these difficult times, while maintaining lines of communication.


"It is vitally important that clubs stay in touch with their members as much as possible. Bowls clubs can appear very precious - they have to look outside themselves and offer something to their communities as a whole - with roll-ups and social events and not just competitive bowling."


He adds: " It's surprising how many will respond. With an outlook like this, bowls clubs can thrive. You just have to open your minds."










Langtoft Pearl Bowls Club is 'closed until further notice', according to club stalwart Peter White but he is hopeful that as long as government guidelines confirm it is safe to do so, it will re-open later in the summer.


"Minimal work has been done to keep the green 'ticking over' and to protect it and we are hopeful we will at least be okay for next season," said the former EBF national senior singles champion.


"Our  chairman Nolan Catterwell, has done a fantastic job, organising theatre and other trips and quizzes to help boost our funds but one of our best fund-raisers - regular coffee mornings at the club - have had to be suspended."




Market Overton Bowls Club was due to celebrate its 75th anniversary this year with a series of events including  visits by Bowls England and a county match featuring the Leicestershire Women's Bowling Association to which the club is affiliated.


Secretary and treasurer Annette Oliver is devastated.


"We had so many plans for this season but now they have all had to be shelved and we have had to close the green, we just can't afford to keep it open," she said, revealing that the club were also due to host the Stamford and District Bowls League Charity Day, the highlight of her year as its 2020 President.


" I feel so sorry for those of us in the senior age group, declared 'at risk' under the government guidelines and needing to stay at home. It amounts to more than 90 per-cent of memberships of some outdoor bowls clubs.


"We need stimulation, the social side of bowls, companionship. People are talking a lot about mental health these days. I worry that the current situation could damage people."




Janet Horwood, chairman of Oakham Bowling Club says the club was able to supplement its subscriptions and green fee income by opening its bar after matches and hiring out its clubhouse for keep fit, Pilates, yoga and bridge sessions. But the local council has stopped that as it breaks the latest regulations about gatherings and social distancing.




"Our membership numbers are down on last year but as a club we are relatively stable financially. I dread to think, however, what will happen in the future. I fear some smaller clubs won't survive."




"We hope to get something out of the season," says Len Marshall, chairman of Stamford Town Bowls Club, optimistically.


" Our main fund-raiser is our annual gala ( in August) and we are holding back a decision on that."


In the meantime, he says, the club is closed for play but once the government's stay at home restrictions are relaxed, it is inviting those who have paid their subscriptions to have a roll-up, as long as they maintain social distancing.


Led by former Stamford League president Kevin Vinter, the club has also set up a private group on Facebook to which only fellow members are invited to communicate. 


"We have been going almost two weeks and have a weekly roll call in which we post photos of ourgardens and pets as well as jokes and puzzles," he says. "We have 18 members in the group and for those who don't have the internetclub members are telephoning the regularly.


" These are strange times but hopefully we will all come through it safely."







Having raised nearly £10,000 to install a replacement clubhouse cabin, which was delivered in February, Ketton Bowls Club members are, like every local outdoor bowler, frustrated by the restrictions imposed by the coronavirus outbreak and the impact it is having on their lives.


The club was also due to host at least two money-spinning galas as well as the Northants Bowling Federation county finals in July which would have also helped to generate funds for a new drainage project and to,support the Ketton Sports and Community Centre, which has also had to close.


However, the club is currently investigating various fund-raising initiatives to replace quizzes, dances, charity events, coffee mornings and the village's three car-boots, from which it received a share of the profits.


Says chairman Bob Warters: "Everyone in bowls appreciates how dangerous this virus can be if it spreads, especially to those of us within the 'at risk' age group. But at Ketton, we are determined to carry on and hopefully get back playing. We also plan to engage with other clubs in the area as soon as government restrictions allow.


"But we must get things in perspective. Many bowlers fall into the vulnerable and at risk category and we must follow the government guidelines and stay at home and stay safe until the danger has passed.




Chairman of the bowls club, Trevor Christie, revealed that he and secretary Derek Needham were preparing an email to send to the membership identifying their fund-raising needs and seeking their financial support to see the club through the current crisis.


Affiliated to both Bowls Lincolnshire and the Northants Bowling Federation, Blackstones, last year fielded four teams in the Stamford League and three in the Peterborough League as well as competing in Lincs and Northants county competitions both as teams and individuals.


"Obviously we want to be ready and able to play as soon as we get the go ahead from the government," he said. "But who knows when that will be. We don't normally collect subscriptions until just before the start of the season but, with many of us making savings by not still playing bowls indoors, we hope our existing members will understand and still support us."


He revealed that the Blackstones site - bowls green, football and social club - is currently in lock down.


"It may take 12 weeks before we can get back to normal and it's a worry that some clubs might not still be there as some people decide they can do without bowls," said Christie but added that he was confident that would not be the case at Blackstones.


At Ryhall, club secretary Jean Dupree revealed that the club has even had to shut down on maintenance as their mower needed a service and was out of action.


"We had been looking forward to the new season as we had just signed up five new members in addition to the 16 we had already. Now we just can't do anything other than just hope this outbreak doesn't last too long."




Club secretary Chris Binns, with unexpected time in his hands, broke off from working on a new patio at his home - " I wish I'd never started it!" he  joked - to tell me that a rota of members were still cutting their green as part of their daily exercise routine but observing social distancing and hygiene restrictions.


" We have spent so much money on our green and on our £4,000 clubhouse extension, we can't afford to let up on it," he said.


The club has 42 members and many had indicated they were prepared to waive their subscriptions for 2020 in order to keep the club funds ticking over after their fund-raising Race Night had to be cancelled.






While the future of outdoor bowls is in a precarious state - and some smaller local clubs which have already shut their greens for the season may not recover - we understand that apart from those already mentioned, dozens of local bowlers who have already paid their subscriptions have agreed to waive them to help stabilise their clubs.


These generous gestures are to be applauded and may yet help threatened clubs to hang on into 2021 and beyond.


Clubs are invited to contact DenIs Stapleton, email to advise what plans they have to raise funds and keep in touch with their members.


BOB WARTERS writes in the Friday March 27 issue ...

The Stamford & District League has decided to suspend all competition. 
League secretary Nina Rawlins announced “ It is with great regret that with immediate effect the League will be cancelled for this coming season.

"We have listened to government advice, consulted with our executive committee and seen the advice from the game's governing bodies, all of which points us to the decision we have made. We have a duty of care to our players, most of whom are in the 'at risk' category."

She adds: "We appreciate that this may well be the demise of some clubs."

League chairman Charlie Underwood comments: "We are all very concerned. Outdoor bowls looks like it could be very seriously affected because of the possible effect of the coronavirus on the age demographic of bowlers and government advice about gatherings and social distancing.

Clubs, he says, must rally together to do all they can to survive and maintain the opportunity for the community to keep active, once this nasty disease subsides.

The league has 33 nine-player teams currently registered to its three divisions. 

The Peterborough Outdoor Bowls League, which features more than a dozen teams from clubs in the Stamford, Deeping  and Rutland locality, has deferred its announcement  April 14.

The secretary of the Northants Bowling Federation, Melvyn Beck, who is also chairman of the Peterborough Bowls League, reveals that the county has already abandoned its plans to stage competitions which were due to culminate with the finals at Ketton in July. 

The national body has also cancelled all planned inter-county matches for men and women as well as the annual national finals and tournament at Skegness in August - a huge money-spinner for the seaside resort and  UCR-anticipated holiday break for the participants and their supporters from 13 counties.

"It's a very serious situation, especially at clubs who simply rely on annual subscriptions and paying match by match green fees to help cover costs while contributing towards professionally-maintained greens," he said.

The sport has also been hit in recent years by bowlers finding it increasingly difficult to bowl on grass surfaces because of the ageing demographic of its participants. Many are preferring to merely extend their indoor bowling season.


To avoid a logistical nightmare for clubs and counties counties and given the current coronavirus crisis regarding self isolation, the Northants Bowling Federation and the NWBF have decided that the 2020 county competition entry fees will be 'rolled over' to next year.

When the 2021 outdoor county competition entry forms are completed later this year, the club or their members can make the necessary financial adjustments, either pay more to enter more events, or withdrawing from some and claim a rebate.

Clubs should then forward claims for rebates to the NBF and NWBF, who will immediately reimburse the clubs for distribution to their claimants.

Should bowlers require an immediate refund, they should make the initial request through their club secretary and not direct to the NBF or NWBF.

If affiliated clubs do not  have copies of the entry fees paid by their members, the counties will provide each club with lists in due course.

Members and clubs who purchased county handbooks will receive free copies next year -  and that also applies to the handful of clubs and members who bought national yearbooks.

Champion of Champion entries for this year will be carried over to 2021, as will the DanDuffy county club championship and the Durham Centenary Trophy.

With many players not paying outdoor club subscriptions this season, the EBF will accept 2019 memberships which will enable players to be eligible for next season's indoor county competitions.