Great Yarmouth indoor bowlers angry about the planned axing of their club rinks
13:00 18 September 2015
Proudly wearing their club polo shirts and united in outrage, dozens of bowlers have pledged to fight an eviction order they say is unfair to old folk and will kill their club.
Around 150 county-level players are calling for a re-think over a multi-million pound revamp at Great Yarmouth’s Marina Centre aimed at improving facilities and reducing a £600,000 subsidy.
A two-week consultation on the proposals ends today.
Meanwhile centre users at Retroskate - the UK’s biggest artistic roller skating club - have also been making their voices heard amid fears that they too could be shown the door to make way for parking.
Refurbishment plans were announced earlier this month after new operators the Sentinel Leisure Trust signed a 15-year contract to take over the centre and Bradwell’s Phoenix Pool.
Members of Great Yarmouth Indoor Bowling Club, whose ladies bowled to victory in the county league, have slammed the plans to sweep away five rinks and replace them with a 25m sprint track, thermal spa and “fancy” gym.
It comes after leisure bosses pointed to an over-provision for bowls in the area, which the bowls club members refute.
Club chairman Helen Farrow, was among around 60 members who took their protest to the entrance of the Marina Centre, passers-by remarking on their number and spirit.
She said: “We do not matter. We are not bringing in enough money.
“They cannot afford us so they are putting in this fancy gym, which is no good to us. We are passionate about bowls and some of us have been playing for over 30 years
“They said they had been in touch with Sport England who said in a club of five rinks they would expect a footfall of 100 per rink, there’s not a bowls club in the area that can meet that.
“A lot of people are getting on a bit and some do not drive. It will mean the end of us as a club, and all our friendships over the years.
“It has been a tremendous blow, for some of these people it is a lifeline. They have lost partners and they come here to meet up with friends and do something that is the only exercise they get.
Other options open to bowlers including nearby indoor rinks, says councillor
Cllr Carl Smith, whose portfolio includes sport and leisure, said: “The planned redevelopment of the Marina Centre aims to improve and modernise sports and leisure facilities and promote and enhance the health and fitness activities and opportunities available to all residents locally.
“However, that investment can only take place if Sentinel Leisure Trust, the centre operator, develops a business plan that increases income and reduces running costs from the centre sufficiently to ensure that the council’s annual subsidy, currently standing at more than £600,000, is reduced to zero in the medium term and that the council’s initial investment, plus additional refreshes at five, 10 and 15 years, can be paid pack.
“To ensure this, Sentinel Leisure Trust and the borough council must look at each part of the centre to ensure the best value is achieved from each square foot and ensure the proposed usage meets both current and future needs and demand for local sports and leisure provision. The partners recognise that this will mean some difficult decisions.
“With indoor bowls, the borough council’s sports and leisure strategy, completed under Sport England guidelines, notes that provision in the borough is higher than the national and regional averages, and local provision is probably as high as any local authority area in the region and better than neighbouring areas.
“Usage of the Marina Centre rinks is between September and May only for league bookings, with casual usage only during the summer months. There has been a total decline in usage between 2008/09 and 2013/14 of 29 per cent, while club membership has also declined.
“The five bowling rinks will soon require new investment if they are to continue in long-term use. The club has 148 members, but to make a centre vibrant and sustainable, it is considered that around 100 members per rink is required.
“The borough council is working with the Indoor Bowls Association to find alternative provision and has offered to work with the bowlers to help facilitate relocation to other centres and explore any other options. There are indoor rinks already at Browston Hall Country Club, Potters and Acle.
“With Retroskate, it remains the position that they have been invited by Sentinel Leisure Trust to develop a business plan which will enable Sentinel Leisure Trust to judge whether that particular operation is the best use of that space or whether alternative proposals should be considered.
“The borough council met with Retroskate before April to make them aware of the proposed development and its potential implications for Retroskate. Sentinel Leisure Trust met with Retroskate on May 5 to make them aware that their development ideas would be required in the near future. They have until October 5 to send through their first version of development ideas.
“The responses to the public consultation, which closes at 5pm today will help with
refining the concept plans to ensure Great Yarmouth has the best offer possible that provides improved and sustainable facilities.”
“Members have reacted with absolute horror. They really are up in arms.”
Mrs Farrow said that although bowls was a gentle sport members were fiercely competitive and serious about winning, adding: “We are not going to roll over and play dead.”
“If they can find us a smaller area in the building we will keep our own carpets and go down to four rinks. We really do not want to split up.
“We will fight to the bitter end, until they close the doors and throw us out.”
Beryl Payne, 82, said: “I feel very strongly because it is going to upset the camaraderie. We will lose all our blocks of people we play with because you cannot take that to another club. We are not hopeful but we are going to fight it and at least put egg on their face. They are catering for all ages except ours.”
Arthur Carver, 80, said he had been told by his doctor to keep up the bowls for as long as he could.
Meanwhile Dave Kingston, 77, said : “I joined the Marina Centre the day it opened and I have played badminton, five-a-side, and other sports. Now I cannot do most of them and the thing I can play is bowls.”
Danny Saunders, mens captain, said he had suggested wrestling, sporting displays or shows could take place on the rinks during the summer season when they bowled outside.
“The bottom line is money. They ought to be putting on their thinking caps and trying to find ways of making it pay. I just do not know how people are going to fill their time. They have not looked at it carefully enough,” he said.
One lady said that joining another club would be “too much of a wrench” and that while there were lots of places to keep fit there was only one place to bowl.
Members have been firing off individual letters opposing the plans. Some have complained about having to pay as much as £175 up front, that they were now having trouble recovering.
Mrs Farrow said the Acle club was full, Potters at Hopton was not an option and that while it was possible that a few individuals could join Browston there were issues with public transport links for those who don’t drive.
However the overriding sadness was the prospect of losing the team spirit and camaraderie they had built up over 30 years.