April is normally the time when lawn bowls clubs around the country make final preparations for the season to come. Henley-on-Thames Bowling Club is no exception. At the end of March, last year’s members would have paid their annual subscriptions, put their names down for the dozen or so knockout competitions and collected their Fixtures Cards to prepare their 2020 diaries. Not this year – Covid-19 has taken its toll on the activities of the Club as it has with all others.
At Henley Bowling Club, Jeanie and Barrie had as usual done all the tidying of the surrounds, re-painted the various paraphernalia that goes with the game and cleaned the Club house. We had even lowered the hedge by the footpath so giving the passing public a better view of the green and our sponsors’ advertising boards.
The club’s green-keepers Maurice and Colin had spiked, scarified, treated and mowed the grass ready for first practice. The final task would have been willing volunteers pulling a heavy roller around the green for a good half day. However, lock down stopped us in our tracks.
Kevin said, “With many of our members falling into the ‘at risk’ category, the prospect of getting on the green at all this season is somewhat hopeful. With the annual “joining up” bash (which we call the “Spring Get Together”) being cancelled, the club decided that maintaining communication links with existing members through emails and phone calls was more important than collecting membership fees. Accordingly existing membership was extended for 12 months at no charge.”
“With the prospect of a season with little or no income from matches, competitions and our annual Gala Day, many members (social and playing) have made generous donations to the Club’s coffers so we’ll be in a more favourable financial position than we might have expected in the circumstances. Keeping a lawn bowls green in tip-top shape costs thousands of pounds a year and would cost a lot more without our Club members putting in their own time and effort.”
The sport’s governing body, Bowls England along with the Oxfordshire Bowling Association have been working hard to provide advice and support to clubs and that includes financial support especially to those clubs with little or no reserves. Affiliation fees are being returned to all clubs without the loss of affiliation, advice on how best to maintain the green is most welcome and workout videos to assist the keen bowler to stay fit have been circulated.
Probably the most welcome news was that on 2 April, the Sport & Recreation Alliance (SRA) met with the Sports Minister and other sector stakeholders and sought clarification on behalf of all sports as to whether grounds maintenance work was classified as essential. The SRA, which represents a number of national bodies including Bowls England, was informed that as long as social distancing regulations are adhered to, and due regard for health and safety is followed, work that is essential to that space is considered to be acceptable.
Kevin added, “So if you see one of our green keepers working at maintaining the green and it’s surrounds, please bear in mind that at the time of this report, it is considered essential work and currently permitted. Whereas the green isn’t in a state to be bowled on right now, we should be able to get up and running pretty quickly once the government permits it.”
The Club would normally hold an Open Day in mid-May to try and attract new members but this isn’t going to happen this year. If social distancing guidance is relaxed and the club opens and you fancy trying out the sport then contact them via our website https://henleybowlingclub.wixsite.com/home and arrange a personal “try out” session.
The Henley-on-Thames Bowling Club would also like to offer our congratulations to our friends and bowling rivals down the road at Shiplake who had hoped to celebrate their Centenary this season with special matches and events. They hope something can still be rescued from this virus impacted season.