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The future of bowling in Huddersfield

Bowling News

Does crown green bowling have a future at all? There are lots of signs that numbers are dwindling. The number of teams, leagues and bowlers are dropping dramatically. When I produce my annual table of the 30 leagues in the Huddersfield area at the start of a new summer season can I expect to see an increase in the number of teams playing in the area? Why not?

We have a wonderful affordable sport that we can play whenever we want with a social and competitive angle to it. The success of the Winter League has convinced me that it does have a future and maybe we have to settle for the fact that it really is an old man's sport. Maybe there will just be pockets around the country where bowling thrives and there is no reason why Huddersfield couldn't be one of those biggest pockets.

But none of that will happen by just sitting back and hoping for the best. Bowling has to make its own future and that won't happen by burying our heads in the sand and ignoring the warning sounds that reverberate around our sport. We have to control and drive our own future and I've long bored people with the need to take up the challenge. I haven't given up on that good cause and here I go again.

The Huddersfield Veterans League used to produce a monthly newsletter that was circulated to all members. Or I should say that I produced a monthly newsletter and did do so between January 2017 and July 2020 producing 43 monthly issues in total until standing down from my position with that organisation. Sometimes I look back at those newsletters to seek inspiration for articles to include on the website or to reproduce in total if appropriate.

Four years ago in January 2020, just before the pandemic, I wrote an article in the 37th edition about what the future might hold for Huddersfield crown green bowling. It was at the time of the 50th Anniversary of the Veterans' League and tried to identify what changes could be introduced to improve the next 50 years. I reproduce that article in full below for those with an interest in the bigger picture about the future of bowling and not just about doing more of the same because that short-sighted approach is taking bowling sleep-walking into oblivion.

THE NEXT 50 YEARS First published in January 2020 at the time of the

50th Anniversary of the Huddersfield Veterans League

It is entirely right at the time of this milestone Anniversary that we should mark and celebrate 50 years of Veterans League bowling in Huddersfield. It is also right that we should also start to look forward in how our organisation might look in the future and what needs to happen to deliver that refreshed vision.

According to our Bye-Laws the aim of the Association states that ‘The objects of the Association shall be to organise team and individual competitions for clubs in membership.’ That’s it, nothing more, nothing less. It seems to me that this statement is very limiting on the ambition of such a well-established organisation. It isn’t enough to direct us to the next level. We can do better than be inhibited by a one-sentence aim which restricts the scope of what could be achieved in the future.

When the Association was first started that aim may have been sufficient to drive members forward to develop a competition that has more than stood the test of time. But is that single aim now still fit for purpose or is it time to review what the Association is all about and time to set some new targets so that the League confirms its self-proclaimed status as the largest and the leading Veterans League in the country? Why shouldn’t it add the title of the most-forward thinking organisation in the country to that list?

At a time when we are looking back at our history I think it is also a time that we should be looking forward and setting ourselves up to ensure that the Association is still thriving in another 50 years time. We owe it to that group of individuals who assembled in the Pensioner’s Hut at Ravensknowle Park in February 1970 to discuss the formation of a Veterans League. They had the drive and foresight to kick-start our League which has provided so much enjoyment for so many, and continues to do so, for all those years.

We have taken over the baton to ensure the future of bowling for the older generation in Huddersfield and we have a responsibility to ensure that it is in rude health as we hand it over to the next generation of bowlers and organisers. Some would say that this is not the purpose of the Association. Some would say that the wider responsibility rests with a higher level body such as the County Association. I looked at the Bye-Laws of the Yorkshire CHGBA and there is one aim listed which is ‘The objects of the Association shall be to organise and encourage competition bowling on any day of the year.’ Sound familiar? So the County and local objectives are the same, nothing wrong with that but who is looking after the bigger picture and taking responsibility for developing our sport to ensure its longevity?

If you are still reading this article at this point then I assume that you have some interest in the future. Many will have given up on this and turned the page. So in practical terms what does all this rhetoric actually mean? This is an entirely personal opinion at this time so bear with me whilst I test the water with a few ideas. These thoughts haven’t been shared with the Management Committee or anyone else yet. Let’s see how far we can get. Treat this as a discussion document at this time.

I believe that the time is right to revise our aims and objectives. They need widening to meet the challenges of the future so I will start by suggesting a new set of high-level aims to be incorporated into our Bye-Laws. Whilst retaining the one-sentence aim currently in our rules I would also offer these draft ideas for extending the aims of the Association:

  1. To work with member clubs to improve the quality of greens and facilities

  2. To attract more bowlers to our Leagues

  3. To secure the financial well-being of the League and work with member clubs to do the same for them

  4. To ensure the structure of the Association and its member clubs supports the needs of bowlers for the future.

Those are very high-level objectives so what does that actually mean in terms of doing something different? Let me expand on each of these new aims in turn to see what they could mean in practical terms.

1. To work with member clubs to improve the quality of green and facilities.

It is not up to the Association to dictate to clubs how to manage their greens and clubhouses but I do believe that we do have a role in helping clubs improve those facilities. For example, there are lots of clubs providing excellent greens and modern well-equipped clubs and clubhouses. They have often got to that point by making mistakes along the way. So why shouldn’t they share that learning with other clubs. We should be sharing good-practice for the benefit of others and not putting clubs in a position where they repeatedly make the mistakes that their neighbours made a year earlier.

Arranging and co-ordinating training sessions for existing and prospective greenkeepers could provide a welcome education for many and give the confidence to others to get involved with the upkeep of their playing surfaces. There is a role for the Association in this area.

Some clubs have introduced new watering systems for their greens. A huge investment for some but something that could produce a wonderful green especially during a dry summer like the one of 2018 which turned our greens brown and scarred the majority for the following season as well. Sharing the work that went into selecting a watering system, identifying the costs and benefits and sharing that information with other clubs could save a lot of time and effort for many. Let’s not reinvent the wheel within each club, lets benefit from the experiences of others.

Are all clubs aware of the range of grants that are available from national sporting organisations, local Councils, the Yorkshire CGBA and land-fill companies. Millions of pounds are made available annually by these organisations to help promote the value of sports such as bowling. Are we getting our share? Why shouldn’t the Association take a lead in identifying such funding opportunities, helping clubs to submit bids for funds and then helping them deliver successful projects?

I really think that there is an important role here for the organisation. Many clubs are put off by the thought of form-filling that is inevitable in any process where money is being handed out. These funds tend to be available for bigger projects – some have a minimum level sum that they will provide. Sometimes this could be £5,000 for a new mower, or greenside shelters or maybe £20,000 for a clubhouse upgrade or even bigger targets of £50,000 for a clubhouse extension or replacement. The opportunities are endless and I know that every club in the area would benefit and put to good use a grant to improve their facilities. The Association could certainly help them do that. I certainly see this as a role for the Association in the future.

2. To attract more bowlers to our Leagues I believe that we have made giant strides towards achieving this already without it being a more documented objective but just a commonsense step forward. The lowering of the entry age to 60, the relaxing of the rules around Starred Bowlers, the wider knowledge of our Leagues through social media, our website and the local press and don’t under-estimate the word-of-month recommendations – all these things have helped to bring more bowlers and more teams into our Leagues and we now have a record number of 94 teams as a result.

This is at a time when may leagues are struggling to maintain their numbers and are reducing in size year-on-year. We can do even better, we cannot become complacent, we need to continue to promote our Leagues throughout the local community and provide a welcome to bowlers of all levels of ability.

I believe that by assisting clubs through some of these other stated aims we will be well positioned to attract even more teams to our competitions. I do think that there is much potential to expand our 6-Man League in particular. This competition has always been considered to be the poor relation of the 10-Man League. We even stop our best bowlers bowling in this competition. Why? I understand that the 6-Man League was only introduced to give bowlers a game who couldn’t get a regular game on merit in their 10-man team. Maybe it is time to review that.

Maybe it is time to get rid of Starred Bowlers altogether. Why shouldn’t it grow to the status and playing level of the 10-man competition? Maybe a half-way house would be to allow but restrict Starred Bowlers to only bowl in the top Section of the 6-Man League. Bowlers of a lesser level would still be catered for by playing for teams in the lower Sections of such a competition. Isn’t that what happens in all Leagues? Why are we discriminating against our best bowlers? Why are we afraid to raise the standard of bowling in our 6-Man League? The introduction of a Winter League or Indoor competitions could also underpin this stated aim to attract more bowlers to our Leagues. We shouldn’t be basking in the status of being the biggest Veterans League in the country we should be looking to use that status to build even better foundations for the future.

3. To secure the financial well-being of the League and work with member clubs to do the same for them. This is a bit of an overlap aim alongside the one about improving facilities within clubs in our Leagues. The aim to support clubs in the bidding process for central funding will contribute also to this aim of helping clubs being more financial stable but there is still more that can be done. Many clubs continue in existence through the Herculean efforts of a small number of members or sometimes just a single member. Should anything happen to destabalise that scenario could threaten the future of that club. Clubs need help in insuring against such a situation.

The Association has a vested interest in ensuring that clubs and teams are better protected against such disasters. Going back to basics about getting structures right in club management teams can help encourage others to get involved. Many likely new club officials are put off by the present incumbents who are protecting their own positions when they should be encouraging others to get involved and providing the opportunity to do so.

Training sessions on Club/Team Management could help many realise how they can improve things within their own club. Case studies of successful clubs could be used to show the benefits of proper structures and the sharing of tasks and responsibilities. I have gone into print before about the role of a team captain and again I believe that the Association can help in the training and development of good team captains through a training and support group. Club Treasurers are often put in such positions by default and are not always equipped to fully appreciate the extent of their role and influence they should have in the good running of their club. The role of Treasurer is really a specialist area. A good Treasurer can make all the difference to the financial well-being of a club. Again training sessions could be organised centrally to benefit many.

4. To ensure the structure of the Association and its member clubs supports the needs of bowlers for the future. The previous aim hinted about helping clubs put in place structures to improve management within their own organisations but what about the structure of the Association? In the outlined expanded role of the Association there would be a need to change the controlling body to ensure that it was fully equipped to underpin the work required to deliver on all these fronts. I see, as a basic, the need for two new roles within the Association’s Management Committee. A Funding Bids Project Leader and a Training & Development Manager. These are specialist roles that need different skills and dedicated posts giving the time and support to bring all these ambitions to the fore. These two roles would be critical in delivering the new agenda. They will not be easy to fill. Why would anyone want to take on that workload? I can only think that it would be a combination of a sense of duty. doing something worthwhile whilst getting a lot of satisfaction in potentially helping many clubs to be better organisations in the future. The gratitude of those clubs being one of the rewards of the role. There is always scope to change the way that clubs are engaged. It may be best to introduce a series of case studies or good practice and document them properly for easy sharing with other interested parties. They would also need to enthuse clubs with the benefits of getting involved. Some clubs will not be interested in becoming stronger organisations producing bids for grants to improve their facilities or learning how to work smarter in the future. But some will. Those are the clubs we need to help and work with. If they produce a series of success stories that can be used again and again to encourage others to take the next step forward then there is no limit to how far some clubs can go.

In my experience, people are drawn to and like to be associated with success. If we can get a few success stories in the bank then I am convinced that we can change the landscape of not just Veterans League bowling but club bowling in general in the Huddersfield area. If we veterans haven’t the time or experience to help deliver that vision then I don’t know who is going to do it. I would feel that by continuing to drift along with a single aim of providing competitions for member clubs then we are falling short of our capabilities and we would be letting down the next generation of junior, senior and veteran’s bowlers.

Nearly finished now or maybe you have already switched off. As I said this is all just a personal viewpoint at this time to see if it generates any thoughts by anyone at all. Maybe it is all crap. Maybe no-one is interested in the future. Maybe everyone is too busy in running their clubs to seek help in learning how to do that better, easier, quicker and with someone working alongside them to deliver their own aspirations for their own club. Regardless of all that I feel much better for that brain-dump and maybe I have sown a few seeds that may be of interest to some of you. I really do hope so.

Jeff Jacklin League Secretary Huddersfield Veterans League January 2020

So what has happened to Huddersfield bowling since 2020? You tell me.

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Jan 12

Reluctantly I think you are right that crown green bowling is regarded as an old man’s game and as you get older we all stop doing things - particularly new things. This reluctance to do new things is reflected in trying to get bowlers to do jobs or to join the Committee. We all have bowlers who would do a good job on the Committee but decline. A common response is I’ve done my bit on Committees -quite often with other organisations or at work.

Getting new bowlers just won’t happen to the extent they are needed to replace those who retire. ( we’ve lost 5 bowlers for next year) You have to make the effort to go out …

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