The future of a sports club has been thrown into uncertainty after a dispute with owners over field space.
Churchdown Bowling Club has been left divided after disagreement with the owners of the site prompted two-thirds of its members to leave the club and declare its closure.
The 98-year-old club makes up a section of Churchdown Club, a sports club and a separate entity, who allow the bowling club to use its site for both to play matches and to practice on.
The Churchdown Club opened in 1921 originally as the United Services Club for servicemen returning from the First World War.
The bowls green was constructed in 1923 and spelt the beginning of the Churchdown Bowling Club.
Back in March, the Churchdown Bowling Club agreed to give up two rinks of their space to the Churchdown Club as a “lifeline” to help them meet social distancing rules.
According to the bowling club’s Welfare Officer Peter Bryant, this was under the agreement that the measure was temporary due to the coronavirus pandemic and the space would then be returned at a later date.
However, Mr Bryant said the Churchdown Club now say they will still need the space for 2021 and have not promised it will be fully returned to the bowling club in the future.
“Competitive bowlers will move to clubs where they are appreciated.”
The decision to take the bowling club’s field space permanently has been branded “absurd” by some members, who said the measure was initially thought to be temporary while social distancing measures were needed.
It has led to a large membership of the club declaring its closure by a two-thirds majority vote, while other members say they would like to stay and keep it open.
In a statement on Facebook, Churchdown Bowling Club welfare officer Peter Bryant said:
It is with great regret that Churchdown Bowling Club, just entering its 98th year, is to fold. We are a section of Churchdown Club but totally self-sufficient, receiving no financial support from the club. In 2020 the bowls club relinquished two rinks in order that the main club could reopen and meet social distancing rules and picnic benches were located on the green.
We offered up the rinks to give the club a lifeline but on the understanding that the green would be returned for bowling use. The club has now said they require a rink for 2021 and would not give a commitment that they would return the green totally to us in the future. They seem to insist that we can still retain a legally sized green and them still have a seating area at the end of the green.
Of course, as all bowlers will know, that is totally absurd. It would be like having a drinking area next to a golf course putting green or at the end of a tennis court.
Who wants drinkers whooping and hollering, answering phones while competitive matches are in play? So, reluctantly, given the main clubs intransigence, the members have voted by a two-thirds majority to wind up the bowls club. Competitive bowlers will move to clubs where they are appreciated.
Historically, when the green was being developed back in 1923, several skeletons were discovered, and it was found that the area had been used as a burial pit for those who had perished in the Black Death. So now, 98 years on COVID-19 and the hand of Churchdown Club committee has caused the death of Churchdown Bowling Club.
Thank you for your support.Peter Bryant – Churchdown Bowling Club welfare officer.
Despite this, the president of the Churchdown Bowling Club has said they are still trying to reach an agreement with Churchdown Club to keep the club at the site.
Ian Wood, who has served as President of the Churchdown Bowling Club for three years, said that “negotiations are ongoing” and a fight to keep the club alive is afoot.
The club didn’t want us to go, but unfortunately we have a couple of hotheads on the committee who wanted to give them an ultimatum, All communications broke down, really. The [Churchdown Club] wanted to put benches on it, someone kicked it off and then they ran with it. The club wanted three metres of the green, which a lot of the old members didn’t like and so wanted to leave. With a lot of them going, it was uncertain whether we would survive anyway, so we decided to wind it up.Ian Wood
However, along with around half a dozen of the original club members, Ian hopes to keep the club at the site as it has been for nearly 100 years, even if it means sacrificing their space. He said: “If it’s a way of keeping the bowls club going in the main club, then we’ll do it.
Churchdown Club’s response
Meanwhile Charlotte Nourse, manager of the Churchdown Club, seems optimistic about preserving the bowls club at the site and said “negativity at this time isn’t helpful”.
Following recent social media notifications, the Churchdown Club Committee would like to state that they do not want Churchdown Bowls Club to close. The Churchdown Club committee wants to continue to work with all sectors of the club to guarantee a successful future.
To encourage custom over the last couple of years the club committee has renovated the lounge and dining areas, improved the menu and has implemented a fresh selection of real ales, gins and other beverages.
As Government guidelines for opening change during this pandemic, one constant has been allowing more freedom outdoors. We need to have usable space outside and this is the only way we have been able to achieve it. The committee have explored many options and the most practical way forward is to turn a 3 meter strip of the bowling green into an outside seating area. This option leaves a fully functional bowling green which still lies within county bowling competition regulations.
The committee has offered to build a new ditch and put up an adequate fence to enable the bowls clubs not to feel encroached during county matches. In these trying times with trade down and the pandemic, the committee has worked tirelessly to find a compromise which will hopefully secure the Club and all the sectors futures.
We will only survive if we work together during this unprecedented time. If anyone wants to speak to the committee and offer some positive feedback, then please get in touch. Negativity at this time isn’t helpful as we are all doing our best to make Churchdown Club a Covid-free beautiful environment that is welcoming for everybody. Survival of the club is the only option.Charlotte Nourse – Churchdown Club Manager