Gateshead Council Proposal to cease bowling green maintenance
In order to close a £29M budget gap for 2019/20, Gateshead Council has made a range of proposals to save money. One of them is to cease bowling green maintenance from April 2019. This will mean that all Council maintained bowling greens in Gateshead (other than Pelaw, Marley Hill and Holly Hill, which are going through an asset transfer process), will no longer be maintained if this proposal is accepted.
If this proposal is accepted, it will have a devastating affect on all Northumberland & Durham Bowling Association affiliated clubs as potentially all member clubs could be forced to close if either the proposal is accepted or suitable alternative provisions cannot be found. The Association, which is the oldest bowling association in the country (founded in 1883), is at real risk of closing if this proposal is accepted. The majority of outdoor bowling provision in Gateshead will also cease to exist if this proposal is accepted and no suitable solutions are possible.
If maintenance of bowling greens is discontinued, there is a risk that it would affect the health and well-being of most of our members who are retired. Playing bowls is not only vital to them in keeping fit and active, but also in maintaining contact with other people. The health benefits of bowling, ie ensuring that people stay both physically, mentally and socially active, are worth far more than the cost of maintaining greens, as the NHS doesn’t have to provide as much treatment to people who are regularly physically, mentally and socially active. The demand for social care could potentially increase if bowling greens were to close as a result of this proposal. There are around 400-500 registered players in the Gateshead area, and I would say that 90% of those are pensioners who could potentially require some form of social care in the future if bowling greens close. How much would that cost? Everyone knows how big a problem social isolation and lonlieness is and there is a big risk that this proposal will make things worse.
In addition, if bowling greens close, the Council will rip the heart out of the parks affected, as many of these bowling greens are at the centre of the affected parks. The bowling greens are well used on a daily basis in the summer months, and whilst the Council will save £246,000 you really cannot put a financial price on their value to the community. It's not as if clubs and members do not pay for playing bowls. This year, each bowler has to pay an annual charge of £48 for playing bowls, so the Council have always had something back.
Outdoor bowls has suffered as much as any other part of Council provision. Across Gateshead, the amount of money spent on bowling green maintenance has reduced over the years. We can see that in the general decline in the standard of maintenance of bowling greens over a number of years. In addition, only last year 12 bowling greens were closed by Gateshead Council in order to save money. Clubs were then forced to share greens.
We acknowledge that we may have to look at the alternatives to Council support. The Gateshead Council Leader has indicated that communities will be expected to carry out tasks such as maintaining sports pitches themselves. Also, the budget proposal mentions that as part of the new strategic approach the Council will "support their communities to support themselves and each other". Plenty of nice words, but what is the substance behind them - asset transfers? If so, we need to know quickly, so that bowls can continue in 2019 and beyond.
Our preferred option is for Gateshead Council to continue bowling green maintenance. However, we appreciate that this may not be possible. It is important that we can see that practical alternatives and the right community structures will be explored so that outdoor bowls could still exist. We really need to see how the Council will help clubs if this proposal goes through. To this end, we are looking to have a meeting with Council officials as soon as possible to explore what options bowling clubs will have in the event that meaningful outdoor bowls can continue in the Gateshead area.
The Association totally understands the tough choices the Council has to make in deciding where the axe has to fall in order to achieve the required savings. However, the amounts which they are looking to save are relatively small in relation to the potential social, physical and mental cost acceptance of this proposal would bring.
All bowlers have been encouraged to take part in the consultation exercise (which closes on 11 January 2019). Also, please speak to your local Councillors, MPs to give them an indication of the strength of feeling against this proposal.
It seems ironic that a few weeks ago, Gateshead Council was promoting the World Transplant Games which are being held in Newcastle Gateshead in 2019. Great play has been made on the rich sporting and cultural heritage of this area, and yet, just weeks later, Gateshead Council are looking to eradicate one of its oldest established sports, thus losing some of it's rich sporting heritage it likes to boast about. Whilst it is acknowledged that the Transplant Games will bring in visitors and athletes alike and showing the area in a positive light, it doesn't sit well that whilst this goes on, outdoor bowls in Gateshead could die without some form of Council support. No-one wants to see this happen.
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