The move comes almost twelve months to the day after the town’s long-established Northavon Bowling Club was forced to wind itself up after a dispute with Bradley Stoke Town Council (BSTC) over the rental of the bowling green at Baileys Court.
The Town Council had insisted upon increasing the rent by 8% p.a. over a ten year period and when the bowlers refused to agree to the new terms they were locked out of their ground.
The dispute, dubbed “Battle of the Bowls” by the national media, hit the headlines in April 2008 when a group of bowlers found their way into the ground to stage a protest match. The Council reacted by calling in the police, who turned up in force to deal with the elderly rebels.
Hopes of a possible settlement were raised in December 2008, when senior Councillors and representatives of the club were said to have informally agreed new terms, but the proposed deal failed to gain the support of the Council’s Finance and Leisure Committee.
The bowlers subsequently called an extraordinary general meeting on 24th January 2009, at which it was unanimously decided to wind the club up.
The fracas has had serious financial implications for the Council, which is now liable for the maintenance of the bowling green at Baileys Court, an £8,000 p.a. cost previously borne by the bowls club. It has also lost out on the £2,000+ clubhouse hire fees previously paid by the bowlers.
Cllr Julian Barge, Mayor at the time of the April 2008 ground invasion, told BBC Points West that the bowls club “needed to get into the real world”. Two years on, the Council is now having to face up to the “real world” consequences of its decision, which in financial terms must already amount to something in the order of £20,000 (excluding legal expenses).
The possibility of forming a new bowling club in the town was first raised by Cllr Ben Walker at a Council meeting on 16th September 2009. That meeting was told that former Northavon President Jim Durlacher had expressed a interest in forming a new ‘Bradley Stoke Bowling Club’ to be based at Baileys Court.
The following morning, Cllr Walker and Mayor Mark Forsyth took part in a live interview from the Baileys Court ground on BBC Radio Bristol. Representatives from the would-be bowls club were, however, conspicuous by their absence, which rather reduced the impact of the broadcast.
A press release put out the same day by BSTC quoted Mr Durlacher as saying he was confident of attracting 50 bowlers to the new club in time for the 2010 season.
The previous bowls club is thought to have had around a hundred members at the time of its demise, but the majority of those have now joined neighbouring clubs and many are likely to be reluctant to return to join a fledgling group in Bradley Stoke.
When The Journal spoke to Mr Durlacher last week, he seemed to have set his sights somewhat lower, saying that he hoped he could attract 30 members for the new club’s first season. His concept of a maximum £35 annual membership fee is also likely to be at odds with the Council’s expectations – at that rate the Council is only going to recoup one tenth of the annual £10,000 hole in its finances caused by the demise of the old club.
The inaugural meeting of the new bowling club takes place at the Baileys Court Activity Centre at 7:30pm on Wednesday (13th January). All those interested in bowling are invited to attend and training is promised for all new bowlers.
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