"Bowls is Bowls" Why and how did it start?

Daventry Calling the world: ‘Let’s play bowls’

A community group that came together to promote the sport of bowls have been inspired by their town’s broadcasting heritage to spread the positive message further afield.

Nestled in rural Northamptonshire, Daventry was once home to the BBC’s World Service, its powerful transmitters broadcasting news and entertainment around the globe with the call sign ‘Daventry Calling’.

More than 65 years of broadcasting history was brought to an end in 1992 when the last transmitter was switched off and the forest of masts that once sat overlooking the town was felled.

Years later it looked as if another of the town’s institutions, the sport of lawn bowls, might follow the famous masts into history: Daventry was once home to three popular clubs, but dwindling membership saw Daventry District Bowls Club disband in 2011 with the loss of a decades-old bowling green and pavilion.

And with the two remaining lawn bowls clubs, Daventry Town Bowls Club and Daventry Tigers Bowls Club, finding it increasingly difficult to recruit new members, their futures looked just as bleak. Something had to be done, and it was. Enter the bowlsDaventry initiative, which brought local clubs together with the town and district councils, local media and businesses, Bowls England, Bowls Development Alliance and other local sports clubs to promote the sport of bowls.

Fun days, free have-a-go sessions and charity competitions helped raise the profile of the sport and rejuvenate the town’s clubs, which have seen a 40% increase in membership.

“We’ve come quite a long way in the last few years,” said Mike Robins, Chairman of bowlsDaventry.

“I think all the clubs in the town, in common with many up and down the country, were having difficulty recruiting new members. When the Daventry District Bowls Club was forced to disband I think it was a wake-up call for the rest of us. “Unfortunately bowls is perceived as a sport for older people but it’s such a wonderful game we felt that if we could just spread the word and get people to give it a go, we would be able to change that perception. “We knew we all needed to pull together in order to make it a success. What we perhaps weren’t expecting at the time was the help we would receive from such a wide range of organisations.”

With the support of the BDA and Bowls England, the new initiative set about organising community events to get more people involved.

Fun days involving Daventry’s rugby, golf and hockey clubs as well as the nearby Northampton Saints Rugby Club attracted hundreds of people and gained a wide range of media coverage, opening bowls up to new audiences.

Further support came from Daventry District Council, which helped the initiative financially as well as with the promotion of the various events. Councillor Wendy Randall, at that time the mayor of the town, also got involved, trying her hand at the sport as part of a Daventry Town Council team and helping to spread the word.

Links were formed with a club in Sydney, Australia, who were keen to emulate the success of bowlsDaventry, while news of their success also reached Tony Allcock MBE, who praised it as a great example of how clubs can work together to boost the sport.

Future plans include the development of ‘Astro Bowls’, a variation on the sport being kept under close wraps at the moment, but which the team believes could be a game-changer in terms of attracting new players. And while the town’s status as a centre for global communications may have faded into memory, the team are keen for Daventry to continue calling out to a worldwide audience.

“For a small team in a small town in rural Northamptonshire I think we’ve very much punched above our weight in the last couple of years,” said Mike. “In doing so we’ve shown there is a significant demand for bowls across the country. We as the bowling community need to reflect on how we are seen by non-bowlers, accept the feedback and then put in place plans to address the issues. That way we can get out there, attract new members and generate new ideas and enthusiasm to take the sport into the future. That’s our message to other clubs across the world.”

It is a sentiment echoed by the BDA, who are helping spread that message. Susan Cooper, of the BDA, said: “The Bowls Development Alliance have been delighted to be able to support the bowlsDaventry project and to see it successfully increase memberships across a range of clubs from a range of codes. By working collaboratively under the bowlsDaventry umbrella, the number of people playing bowls in Daventry is increasing and we look forward to sharing elements of this work with clubs and organisations nationwide.”

13 October 2017

Mark Courtney

Bowls Daventry

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