National Volunteer Award Profile - Gary Earl

Launched last summer, Bowls Scotland have now announced 12 National Volunteer Winners who dedicate their time and expertise to improve the sport of bowls around the country. The first winner profile from our Round 3 winners celebrates Gary Earl of Yoker BC. Gary had received multiple nominations and was selected as a winner for being a positive role model to others, for his excellent leadership and high-quality coaching.

Gary found himself volunteering at Yoker as soon as he joined the club as we found out when we spoke to him after receiving his award at the start of the 2022 season.

“I joined Yoker Bowling Club in 2003 following 15 years playing at Clydebank BC. Working as a Finance Officer for Dalmuir Park Housing Association, the element of trust was already established and with the club being without a Treasurer, I was invited to take up the treasury role immediately. To be honest this was the beginning of what is currently a 20-year journey of volunteering!

“The first few years was stabilising the business side of the club and once that was secured, I was involved in seeking grant funding to revamp our clubhouse. In 2012 over £15k was secured for major clubhouse improvements and this changed the mood of the club socially. It became a clubhouse of comfort and as one grant was spent the next one came good. As members began to become more involved in the development of the club I began to step aside and simply support the club as treasurer once again. It was then, in 2016 having more time, that I decided with the help of other coaches and Glasgow Sport, to establish a Bowls Academy, not just for junior members but new members and visitors. The journey now continues as we enter into season 2022 and Year 7 of The Academy.”

The Academy always intended to be more than your average Junior Section, it was an open and inclusive platform to introduce anyone to the sport Gary and the other club coaches are so passionate about. Certain qualities and values were instilled in the Academy set-up from the start.

“I remember attending the Bowls Scotland coaching course in 2015. One thing that was shared amongst many attendees was ensuring that the members being coached were never criticised for their efforts. One thing that we agreed from the beginning of the Academy with coaches and members was that we would be supporting each other from the beginning. However, the Academy was not where you popped in and out for 2 hours on a Saturday morning but a place where focus and concentration would reap benefits coupled with, in our opinion, a high quality of coaching each week.

“We have serious days, fun days and aways days. It's not just about enjoying Saturday sessions but creating friendships and relationships and offering fun off the green has certainly encouraged our Academy members to commit and apply themselves 100%.

“It is important that members know that they will never be put in positions that they do not wish to be put into such as competitions. If they do not wish to take part, come and watch. That way you ensure that you retain members who you can continue to develop.”

The away days that Gary mentioned have provided life-changing experiences for some of Yoker’s members and 2022 is no exception, with grand plans underway for an overseas trip in the close season.

The area of the city where the club is located is identified be the Scottish Government as an area where people experience disadvantage across many areas of their lives. The extra mile Gary and the team go to in by removing barriers and provide opportunities for members of the Academy, their families and the wider community truly shows how they are making bowls accessible for all.

“Funding is absolutely crucial to allow children to enter the sport. Grants do not have to be big, they can be small, enough to buy some junior bowls, shoes, sport shirts and zippers. We charge £1 per week which covers juice and snacks at the break. We fundraise by doing bag packing at ASDA. You can raise a considerable sum here. The Academy raised £800 prior to the pandemic and this covered a pair of bowling shoes and a club top for each member. If you can cover the cost of clothing and general equipment for the kids, sets of bowls will be donated over time and all of a sudden everyone is fully 'green ready' for zero cost. In my opinion this is crucial and what makes it initially attractive to kids taking up the sport.”

Gary received multiple nominations for his volunteer award, Martha Osborne who submitted a nomination for him also believes making the sport accessible to everyone is an important part of the Academy set-up.

Gary has made a huge difference to Yoker Bowling Club as without people like him younger bowlers may think that bowling greens are for older retired people to play. Initiatives like the Yoker Academy will make the club busier and keep it open for future players. Gary will often encourage parents and carers to have a go and most of them stay to learn with their children. He will allow any child who wishes to participate to try it out and give them a sense of achievement when he tells them how well they have done. He deserved to have the volunteer award for all the hard work he does to show how much not just the children he teaches appreciate him but the parent and carers who don’t need to worry about how they are going to fund their children to attend.”

After almost 20 years at Yoker BC, we asked Gary about the rewards he gets from volunteering at the club and what advice he would give to other clubs looking to improve or increase junior membership.

“The rewards and benefits are very simple it is simply to see others progress as bowlers and members of our club. To see everyone’s enjoyment in getting that first chalker, being selected for certain tournaments on their own merit and witnessing first hand the level they are achieving when they do not actually know it. That is very satisfying and that is the moment where the sense of pride kicks in. Just as important is to witness friendships being built, especially when its mixed ages. That is very rewarding and fun to watch.

“What I would say from the beginning is; think bigger and better than just a junior section, an Academy or Development Team is far more beneficial as you will attract juniors, new members, parents and established members who wish to roll back to basics or take the opportunity to come along and correct issues within their own game. Also be open to members of other clubs, they may not have an opportunity to participate in a set up at their own club and their attendance will only help your members develop, particularly the younger ones.

“Also, make sure that you are 100% committed and that you have others to help. You need time off occasionally, but the Academy does not need to be cancelled because you cannot attend. Tap into support from Bowls Scotland Development Team, groups that deliver support from grassroots e.g. Glasgow Sport and of course individuals such as County Officials who will support each player as they come through the different levels. To make it a success, be strong but accept advice.” 

The Academy is about more than just bowls, with social trips and activities also being organised by Gary and the club. There are grand plans in place for the Academy in 2022 with a trip planned to Tenerife in October as Gary explained:

“We fundraise to ensure the cost is as little to parents as possible. This money is not just directly for bowls clothing or equipment it can be used for social items, e.g. tuck shop, trips to crazy golf or trips to chocolate factories. One of the most satisfying aspects about the Academy is the relationship building between the kids, the chat and the fun times which is carried onto the green.

“Seven kids are now committed to the 6-day trip to Tenerife which will involve 4 training workshops and for some, if not all an opportunity of a lifetime, some have never had the opportunity to fly before now. To get the Academy to this stage in such a short period of time is very rewarding as will walking up the stairs onto the plane. However, the hard work begins now as we need to raise £3,000 to get the kids there for a small deposit paid for by their parents. We hope some local companies will assist with some donations.”

Martha again, praised Gary’s dedication to fundraising to support the families of the Academy members, offering opportunities which otherwise may not have been available to them.

He comes every week even through School holidays, he has organised fundraising to enable every child to have a full uniform at no cost to parents or guardians, he has done this for the last five years every Saturday morning and in winter he organises bowls at Dumbarton Indoor Bowling club. Gary is so enthusiastic about the sport and has encouraged other bowlers to help out. The children are now at the stage where they are competing with other bowling clubs and getting to a really high standard of bowling and this would never been achieved without Gary. This year he has organised a trip to Tenerife for the young bowlers and he is organising all types of fundraising with different people and places in order to hopefully pay all or part of the cost for each bowler attending, those who aren’t, will benefit from new kits and bowls being bought.”

Bowls Scotland look forward to hearing an update on the Academy’s trip abroad and wish the club every success in their fundraising and 2022 season. A final word from Gary on his favourite experiences as a volunteer and how it felt to win his National Volunteer Award:

Every Saturday I tell my fellow coaches to expect the unexpected and never a truer word has been spoken. I have many moments that have been up there with the best but here are a few that sit as favourites...

“Jessica, my daughter was asked to guest at U25 level for Renfrewshire v Stirlingshire in August 2021 at the age of 9. On one of the few wet days last year she didn't just make up the numbers, she participated and held her own, beaten by the last bowl after 21 ends.

“A special moment was in April this year.  We had our first internal adult/child game.  A full green with 12 pairs saw our Academy kids play 6 games through the afternoon. One of our members, Liam won 6 out of 6 games and another, Wyatt who is the quiet one amongst the kids, strutted around the green as if he owned it, winning 5 games and drawing 1. 

“In January, via Bowls Scotland Socials, I saw that I had been included in the Roll of Honour. In April whilst I was coaching at the club President of Bowls Scotland John Anderson came through the gate. At first, I wasn't sure who it was and when I made myself known, John asked if he could have 5 minutes with The Academy members and myself. Only when John began speaking did the penny drop what the purpose of his visit was for. Then I realised why many people had gathered, unusually at the club, including my wife Fiona and my dad, Sam.

“I was a little overcome as I kept thinking who had taken the time to put me forward for this award, and how kind it was to have followed through with their thoughts and what it must have meant to them personally to have a Bowls Academy with high quality coaching every Saturday, not just with me but all my fellow coaches.

“It was a very proud moment when John asked my daughter Jessica, also an Academy member, to present me with the National Volunteer Award.”

“I’d like to thank Bowls Scotland for the award, everyone involved in my award nomination, the members of the Academy and of course the coaches and assists since the Academy was formed in 2016. It is certainly not a one-man band and only through excellent teamwork have we achieved what we have achieved.”

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