Bowling club closure is sad but unavoidable

First published in Letters

MAY I, as older people’s champion for Ryedale District Council respond to letters in the Press and to the six letters I have received about the decision to close the indoor bowls club.

Firstly, may I say that decisions like these are not taken lightly or without due consideration of all the issues. For several years now, Ryedale District Council has gone out of its way to help this private club by recognising its membership difficulties and has reduced the annual rent by stages from £37,500 to the current £10,000, in the hope that better times and renewed life was a possibility.

It has to be understood that Ryedale District Council owns the building only. It has absolutely no responsibility or say in the management of the bowling, catering, membership or other activities. As I understand it, that responsibility rests with the club committee.

It cannot have escaped anyone’s notice that all councils are under intense pressure as they endeavour to maintain key essential services in these straitened times. They must also optimise their assets to best help the public. Ryedale District Council simply cannot afford to continue to subsidise private facilities which are outside its control when vital provision is under threat.

Therefore, while I have a great deal of sympathy for those who enjoy the indoor bowls and its facilities, Ryedale District Council’s main concerns are to help to ensure that we can continue to provide priority services like the emergency help given during the recent floods, the community transport services and all the health and social care services, both statutory and voluntary, needed especially in winter, by older, frail, disabled and vulnerable people.

These, together with the need to facilitate improvements in the major priorities of employment, training and housing are in my view, where we must focus at the present time.

But all need not be lost. The option to purchase the building is there for individuals, community groups and the club itself under the Localism Bill rules. Has the club explored this option or sought help from the Lottery and other grant schemes?

And even if this is not possible, there may be the opportunity to find an alternative venue in which to play short mat bowls or to join a village hall group to which many older people belong. After all, there are 13 bowls clubs in Ryedale.

Ryedale District Council supports its swimming pools and makes a substantial annual grant to the leisure centre. It also supports village hall and many community facilities through its grants system, while the county council makes contributions to playing fields and schoolbased community physical activity.

I would recommend organisations like the Ryedale Forum and U3A to older people looking for companionship and physical recreation. These two groups operate a wealth of activities ranging from several walking groups to keep fit and ballroom dancing, to toga and tai chi, swimming and lesser-known games such as rackets, not to mention all the other stimulating outings and meetings so that physical, mental and social needs are well catered for.

There are always other options for indoor bowling, especially when catering for the relative few who currently use the indoor club, and I would be happy to explore and help find alternatives. At Middleton on the Wolds in East Yorkshire, a tworink indoor club was erected by the bowls club members themselves and is used throughout the week and in the evenings by local residents at no cost to the taxpayer. It has now been going for ten years and is greatly valued. This surely is community initiative at its best. Can we not also find answers to problems in Ryedale as well?

Coun Vivienne Knaggs, Pickering East Ward

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