Return to the Green Story: Bathgate BC

This season Bowls Scotland have been sharing Return to the Green Stories, sharing news from clubs around the country who have helped reconnect their communities through sport as lockdowns eased.

We spoke to Stuart Johnston, President of Bathgate BC in West Lothian to hear about their season. From funding for club improvements and a successful Try Bowls day, Stuart filled us in on some of the news from the club.

“Throughout the pandemic our members and volunteers on our maintenance team have been working hard on improvements to the club; new heating, new flooring, new tables, new chairs & decorating… the hall and lounge have been completely transformed. We wanted to make sure that we put the Covid Recovery Grants to use and believe that these changes will be welcomed by the members as well as lead to increasing bar revenues.”

The club reached out to Daniel Baker, National Development Officer for Districts 11 to 24 at the start of 2021 for support and advice on a number of topics. “From these discussions we were supported in putting together a Covid Recovery Plan as a club and that included increasing the membership through Try Bowls or getting members to bring their friends and family along. The club has a club development team that were heavily involved in the planning and preparation of these events."

The development team at Bathgate saw the opportunity to reconnect the local community by providing an outdoor activity and common purpose post-lockdown. “We’ve seen over the last two or three years a reduction in members… bowls can be a very good health and wellbeing activity and that was the two main drivers for running membership growth events. Covid’s been hard for everyone, it’s been hard for our members as well and we know there’ve been a lot of people who haven’t had that sort of support network. I think all sports have good support networks…”

The club arranged two membership-growth events, one which was a One End Shoot-Out under the floodlights on a Friday night: “We encouraged members to come along and bring friends and family. We had 48 people turn out in total and a non-member won the competition!” Despite being late in the season, due to the improvements being done on the clubhouse, the development team also ran an open day for the community which was advertised via Social Media. “It was late in the season to see any benefit from it for this season, however we were acknowledging that after speaking to Daniel and picking his brains that we wanted to try something this year to get the message out. And it’s not just all about the bowling, we’ve spent some of the grant funding money on carrying out refurbishment to the club in terms of the hall and the lounge which are available for events. Bowling on the green is really quite a short season, but there’s obviously other activities: Ladies Days throughout the winter, dominoes clubs and things like that. We wanted to get the message out there, to learn from the event and maybe pick up a few members from it for next season. It’s about taking these learning points on.

Using the club’s Facebook Page to advertise, we reached about 2,000 people but I also reached out to a couple of local community pages within Bathgate and West Lothian to share our event, which was easy to do, and we think very effective.

On the day we set up 6 rinks with games that Daniel had suggested and others that we’d seen other clubs using via Facebook. We ran the event 12-3pm and at quarter past 12 we’d had no one arrive… by half past the green was filling up! We had some old members return who were impressed by the improvements we’d made to the clubhouse and 42 attendees in total! Some lived next to the club, some didn’t know that the club existed! The feedback from everyone was great, and useful for next season too. Next year we won’t just do it once, we’ll run maybe 3 or 4 events over the season."

The efforts made on social media were also rewarded with many of the attendees saying they saw posts on Facebook and decided to come and have a try. During the planning stages the club decided not to make the day all about gaining membership and instead focussed on the mental-health and social benefits of bowls as selling points. “We created a flyer for them to take away with information on the club, facilities and different levels of bowls. We felt this was a friendlier approach than just handing out membership applications. We’re planning to invite the attendees back at the start of next season, which we hope again gives a more personal touch.”

We asked Stuart what advice he would give to other clubs looking to expand their membership…

“Engage with Bowls Scotland! They have so many useful resources and can share lots of information. Speak to other clubs and make the most of social media. Bathgate is active on both Facebook and Google and we get great engagement, including bookings for the hire of the hall. Social Media is a great way to engage with the local community and get the club seen, much more effective than the old-fashioned method of distributing flyers!”

We can’t wait to see what is next for the club and believe that Stuart, the directors and development team within the club will continue to work hard to get rid of the stereotypes around bowls being an ‘old man’s sport.’ We talked about the many ideas the club has in the pipeline to engage younger members and improve accessibility of bowling to a wider audience.

A final word from Stuart: “Bowls is changing and it’s important for us to continue promoting the many benefits of our sport.”

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