The game of Bowls has taken something of hammering following the two years lost to the pandemic.
Indoor clubs in particular have suffered hugely mostly due to the loss of those members who are the backbone of any organisation – namely the bread-and-butter membership who would turn up several times a week to play with friends just for the fun of it. They, when indoor arenas were strictly off limits, quickly found something else to do.
But old habits die hard given new life through the oxygen of hard work by those dedicated to the sport – and there are a few of those about in Torbay’s local clubs.
This week, the Torbay Area Indoor Club based at Oldway Mansions in Paignton completed a massive refurbishment programme that culminated in the laying of a new £28,000 playing surface.
It was a leap of faith that followed a long and determined effort by the club’s committee to get their membership back to the levels that the club enjoyed before despair descended upon the nation.
As club secretary Graham Warren told me, “The club has been on a solid financial footing for many years. We have always had a frugal approach to the spending of the club’s money”
But when it has had to be spent, the welfare of the club members has always been a priority.
The Torbay club under renovation
New carpet being installed at the Torbay club
Modern overhead lighting for the green was installed in 2016 costing £17,000 and that was followed in the Covid years by an upgrading of the ventilation system around the green at a cost of £20,000 - bettering the standards laid down in government regulations. And a new access path was laid down this month for the benefit of disabled bowlers with a price tag of £6,000.
John Read, House Manager at Torbay since 1992, was proud of the club’s improvement programme. He said, “Maintaining the club membership numbers has been crucial to our ability to fund the improvements that we have made We currently have over 400 members and those numbers may still improve at the start of the new season later this month. Good club management has also contributed to the current status of the club.”
But if the future of the Torbay club looks fairly assured, it is a very different situation at Torquay United Indoor Bowls club at Plainmoor in Torquay. And the main difference is the rent.
Throughout the Covid period, the Torquay club continued to pay a monthly rent of £1,700 to landlords Torquay United Football club despite many requests from the bowls club for a meeting to discuss the possibility of a rent holiday. That figure is increased to almost £20,000 a year during the season when the cost of electricity is added to the bill. And that was before the recent dramatic increases in the cost of power
As a consequence, the bowls club came within a short measure of closing down altogether. Government grants just about saved the day - but what of the future?
Three years of club mis-management prior to Covid undoubtedly contributed to Torquay’s lack of financial resources when the crisis came. A two and a half thousand grant to bring the lighting of the green up to standard and reduce energy costs by two thirds remained unused and then lost. The club could not afford to pay the balance of the costs. As a long-standing club member put it recently, “The previous committee were simply inactive then. Today the new committee are pro-active. Very pro-active!”
The new underlay at the Torbay club
I spoke to the new club chairman, former England international Barbara Bellamy. She was very upbeat. “We have spent the summer recruiting new members and the committee are pleased with those results. I have to thank Bryan Coad for the hard work he has put in there.
“In addition, we have put together a training programme for new and inexperienced bowlers with thanks to our qualified coaches, Terry Ash and Bill Smith who are providing the coaching free of charge. And we have put in various other measures to encourage new players including a temporary membership status so that all bowlers new to the club can take their time finding out whether the sport suits them.”
And a very enthusiastic club chairman was not finished there. She continued, “How many other clubs can you see three current Commonwealth Games medallists playing on a regular basis.” Indeed, Sam Tolchard, Louis Ridout and Jamie Walker can certainly demonstrate how the game is played at international level. And they will be playing at Torquay next season.
With a brand-new website also being set up to keep the club members fully up-to-date, perhaps the Torquay club has every reason to be optimistic for the future so I leave the last word with Barbara Bellamy. She told me, “It’s the start of a new era. And we don’t intend to fail this club.”