National Volunteer Award Profile John McCartney
John McCartney has been bowling for 67 years and has taken on many roles from coach to committee member, giving back to the bowling community during that time. Involved at club level, within the Scottish Young Bowlers Association (SYBA) and for the local Inverclyde Indoor Bowling Club, John has always been passionate about introducing new bowlers to the sport.
Learning from his own experiences, John has spent his bowling career ensuring newcomers receive a warm and friendly welcome to the sport. “My first experience of trying bowling at Skelmorlie Bowling club in 1954 set the scene for me. On asking to join I was told to beat it by the older men. They said: “this is our game - you are a footballer”. This strengthened my determination to play the game. I met one of the old men near my home - he said, “just ignore them son, come down tomorrow and I’ll teach you the game”. Within a week I was being welcomed by his cronies and they asked me if I could play in the league. I am committed to encouraging young bowlers to enjoy a wonderful game. It is great for health and wellbeing and is a very sociable sport.”
Having joined Skelmorie BC in 1954, John moved to Gourock Park BC in 1964 and was asked to become President in 1975 which is where his volunteering began, he’s been helping the club by joining both internal and external committees since then. “I served as Club Secretary in the Mid 70’s. I represented the Club (and Greenock and District) on the SYBA committee and the Gourock Community Sports Hub. I was also the Chairperson of the Club’s Management Committee.”
John pinpoints his time volunteering to support the SYBA games as one of the most challenging during his bowling career. “We combined with Argyle and Bute and encouraged both male and female bowlers to play friendly games and competitions in our own area and Lanarkshire and Ayrshire… We had to borrow bowls and waterproofs for the young bowlers. My father-in-law, my wife and I provided transport for the friendly games and competitions. The furthest journey was to Auchinleck.”
In his 57 years at Gourock Park BC John has seen many changes including in 2004 when the Inverclyde Council transferred ownership of the public’ greens to the clubs. “The main expense for the Club after the transfer was the maintenance of our two greens. Gourock Park realised that we would need a more business-like approach to the running of the Club. We decided to have a Management Committee. This committee would put all the necessary procedures and controls in place to have a sustainable Club. I was Chairperson of the Management Committee and served from 2005 until 2016. I chaired 85 meetings.” Having an organised and structured committee set the foundations for sustaining and growing club membership, Gourock Park BC worked with Bowls Scotland and their local Active Schools Coordinator to come up with a development plan. John explains that to encourage youngsters into the sport, the committee focussed on coaching and safeguarding courses “11 members of the club attended the courses and received the certificates to meet Active School’s needs, our Affiliation was achieved. I have coached at 4 local schools, primary and secondary.”
John has also been involved in fundraising and finding sponsorships for the club. “In 2007 I became the Honorary President of the Club. I was keen to help to boost club funds. I started running the Monday night Wappenshaw in 2008. Male and female young and adult players attend the games, and a local newsagent continues to sponsor the competition.”
More recently John has turned to Bowls to keep him active during the pandemic, re-introducing his daughter Lorna to the sport so that they could play together within the COVID guidelines. As the restrictions eased John returned to his coaching and was a central part to the increase in membership at the club during the 2021 season, taking the lead on Try Bowls sessions. “Prior to lockdown we had 25 junior members and I noticed a few of our adult members had not returned. At the start of the season my daughter encouraged me to continue bowling, following strict Covid rules. We thought about how we could encourage new members to join. Try Bowls seemed to be a good approach. I asked the GPBC committee to publicise Try Bowling Sessions during June. Our Secretary posted a notice on the entrance gate and in Gourock station offering the sessions every Saturday. We also used social media to promote the sessions. The local press were very supportive. The attendees grew and grew. The new bowlers were so keen they even turned up in the pouring rain! I did not have to encourage any new bowlers to submit application forms, they were hounding me for them. I think the Try Bowling success was partly due to people being stuck at home during lockdown. I was keen to be at the green to coach the new members. I remember being at a meeting held at Fort Matilda hosted by Bowls Scotland. The Bowls Scotland representative asked, “what is the most important action you can take to encourage people to come to your green”. Curly Black from Colintraive and Innellan BC answered “just be at your green”. I think I proved that by being at GPBC for Try Bowling every Saturday morning for 4 months”
We asked John what he enjoys most about coaching bowls, he said: “I enjoy seeing how happy new bowlers of all ages are during a game of bowls. Some said that they did not expect to enjoy bowling. They also said they find it very relaxing and that day to day stresses and worries disappear when we are at the green. The older adults told me they wished that they had taken up the game at an earlier age. The young bowlers show so much enthusiasm for the game and most of them are naturals. It is very satisfying bringing non bowlers into the sport.”
“I also like to follow the progress of the bowlers I have coached or introduced to the game. Through meeting those people or receiving messages through social media I’m told that they appreciate that I encouraged them to start bowling - some of them reached County level.”
John coaches juniors both indoor and outdoors, “I have coached young bowlers as young as 5 years. The first end of the game with the 5-year-old, he played the forehand with his right hand, I asked him to play the backhand and he played with his left hand. He repeated this throughout the game - a champion of the future!”
John’s favourite memory from his time volunteering within the sport also comes from coaching young bowlers: “A team of young girls from Gourock Park won the SYBA Fours competition in Perth, beating four older and taller boys in the final. Other teams from our district have reached the later stages”
John Lamb, Treasurer of Gourock Park BC nominated McCartney for this award highlighting the contributions to club and community that John has made over the years. “John has been a dedicated coach for Gourock Park Bowling Club (GPBC) for over 35+ years, and an ambassador for bowls for 67! John continues to run the Monday evening Wappenshaw, welcoming and encouraging all ages of bowlers, both experienced and those just starting out in the sport. John is an unassuming man in the main, he coaches our junior section on a Thursday evening, and also promotes the sport through the local schools (primary and secondary) as part of his role in Gourock Community Sport Hub. He was also instrumental in the start-up of learn to play bowls at the club, he coaches the group of newer members every Friday and the club has benefited from this immensely... Over the years John has held various positions within the club from committee member to club president and then on to chairman of our fully integrated club. As well as all of the above he was (is) still a very good bowler who has been club champion multiple times and has represented our club at County level. Gourock Park has a lot to thank John for and therefore I believe he has all the credentials to be nominated for the award.”
John’s National Volunteer Award was presented by Marella O’Neill, one of the District Coordinators for the area with John Lamb who nominated him also present. “When Marella read the nomination I was not thinking it was about me. I was surprised when she called my name - a bit overwhelmed, then excited, then delighted. I think it is a great honour for me and GPBC.”
Nominating a volunteer at your club not only highlights the hard work they do at national level, it might give them a personal boost “Being a winner has provided me with the motivation I need to continue with the Try Bowls session next season.” We certainly can’t wait to see what comes next for John and all at Gourock Park BC in the season ahead.
Applications for Bowls Scotland’s National Volunteer Awards are open year-round, find more information via our volunteering page.