Return to the Green Story: Peebles BC
Peebles Bowling Club in the Scottish Borders has experienced a huge growth in membership over the past few seasons, growing from 89 members in 2016 to 186 in 2021! With 50 new members this season, Bowls Scotland caught up with some members of the clubs’ management committee to find out how they’ve succeeded. Mark Smith, club president, Colin Thomson, vice president, and Miller Milloy, club secretary told us about the journey the club has been on in recent years and what sparked this growth for the club, which is now a centrepiece in the Peebles community.
For many seasons, Peebles BC have held a ‘Traders Day’ for local businesses to engage with the club, held on the first Sunday in May. Three non-bowlers from a local company would be paired with a bowler from the club to form a team and play in a competition. This Trader’s Day was Colin’s first introduction to the club, who took part for a number of years before becoming a member. He said: “It was such a good day, always on the bank holiday and no worries about work the next day. We played one year and were knocked out in the first round, we’d waited all year for this, and it was quarter past eleven and we were out, so I said look, come on let’s just join. And we joined and then we could have that ‘Traders Day’ feeling together at any competition around the borders.”
For both Colin and Mark the competitive aspects of bowls reminded them of fond memories of their days as football and rugby players, respectively, and as such they were both able to encourage friends from those sports to come to try bowls at the club instead. As relatively new members with great enthusiasm for their new sport, Mark and Colin were elected as President and Vice-President of the club. Club secretary, Miller, explained: “Without taking away from the contribution made by former Presidents, there’s was more of an honorary and representative position whereas these guys see their service as an opportunity and a commitment to build something.” The pairs’ positive, ‘can-do’ attitude proved to be infectious, and a number of small changes began to shape the club, making it more inviting to new members and visitors.
“We’re on the bowling green with hoodies, t-shirts and shorts, and that attracts people of our age group who previously used to think bowling clubs are all about blazers and ties” - Colin Thomson, Vice President.
With Mark and Colin at the helm, backed by a hard-working committee of other elected members, the club began to see more and more new faces. Each new member that had a fun day on the green would come back with a few friends, and through positive word of mouth the membership continued to grow.
The committee believe that having an informal dress-code and a strong foundation of welcoming existing members is vital to their growth. Club president, Mark Smith, added: “We’ve deliberately tried to be aware of new members so that people are immediately integrated. As soon as people come through the door, we think what can we do to make them stay? So that might be finding out what level of bowls they want to be involved at, getting to know them, communication and so on.”
Small changes to the clubhouse like the addition of Wi-Fi, new tv and key fobs for members to gain access helped modernise Peebles BC in small stages that existing members felt comfortable with. When Covid brought around the preference of taking card payments over cash, the implementation of a card machine was a fairly simple step thanks to the Wi-Fi and other systems already being in place.
Like all clubs around Scotland, Covid caused huge disruption for the club, but they have seen some positives in this seasons more relaxed format. The membership buying into the COVID guidance drawn up by the Committee was a massive factor in returning to the green. There are many members who don’t want to bowl in a highly competitive environment, and the clubs hat nights and more casual competitions have had a better turn out this year than in previous seasons. The committee want to make sure any level of bowler is welcome at Peebles, saying: “the club is for YOU, whatever you want it to be. You can be very competitive or not in a league at all. And so, there’s that kind of feeling that ‘the club is for me at my level’ and people aren’t forced to become a fanatical bowler.”
This season, the club held a closed event just for its new members as Miller explains: “Early in May we wrote to all the new members who’d joined last year (24) and this year (50) and we invited them to a new members day on a Saturday afternoon. Come and meet the president and committee, get your entry fob for the door, try bowls, see some equipment, some food and bar open. Now, it was a glorious Saturday afternoon and 30 came, brilliant atmosphere. At one end of the green we had people who’d never held a bowl in their life and at the other we had folks who’d bowled for years but had left. And there was just a lovely atmosphere, food, drink, coaching; we played a wee competition and left others to coaching. And the people went away absolutely delighted, the atmosphere, the welcome and the fact that they were out on the green.”
And it’s not just new members returning to the green after lockdowns, Colin touched on the mental health benefits of having a safe, outdoors space to enjoy an activity with like-minded people. “…it gets them out the house, they might be lonely in the house but down at the club there’s a friendly environment, a competitive environment, whatever environment you want to get out of the bowling club I think is there. And people are recognising it.”
With children also suffering as a result of the Covid restrictions, the club, once the green re-opened, invited some School children from one of the local Primary Schools down to the green for a ‘roll-up’ using small coloured children’s bowls borrowed from a neighbouring Club.
Talking to Mark, Colin, and Miller it’s impossible to not feel enthusiastic about the future of bowling clubs in Scotland. With passionate volunteers, small improvements and a can-do attitude, Peebles has gone from strength to strength and even has development plans in the pipeline for further club improvements over the next couple of years. This bowling club has introduced new people to our sport and is spreading the word about how bowls is a fun and engaging sport for people of all ages and all abilities. Miller pointed out that Peebles’ town motto “Contra Nando Incrementum - against the stream, they multiply” is apt for a club who has stepped away from tradition to bring a new lease of life into the sport of bowls.
A final message from Mark, with advice for any other clubs looking to follow Peebles BC’s journey:
“Fundamentals have to be there for bowling, but clubs nowadays need to adapt, and drive change a little bit. I’m not saying turn the club upside down, because at the end of the day it has to remain a bowling club, but you have to go with the times. These small things like card readers, key fobs and tv’s these are big things for a bowling club. But these small changes seem to make a big difference and I think that was my focus as president: fundamental bowling stays but you need to make small changes and you need to adapt with the times. That’s what I recommend other clubs do as well, just these small changes, and bring people along on a journey…” – Mark Smith, Club President