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Horsham Park Bowls Club (©AAH/Alan Wright)

Published 1st May 2022

The members of Horsham Park Bowls Club enjoy one of the most scenic locations in town. Yet despite its spot at the heart of the park, it’s easy to miss, with the green concealed by hedges, tennis courts and the dragon maze. Matches have been played here for over half a century, but for all its history, Horsham Park Bowls Club is in need of new blood after the pandemic. Attracting younger members has always been a struggle, but now people are retiring later and face additional demands, many sacrificing their leisure time to help relatives. 

John Robey, Publicity Officer, said: “We need to attract players earlier, when they’re in their 40s or 50s, otherwise the club and many others like it across the UK won’t survive. For most, bowls is something people take up in retirement, but they are not joining in sufficient numbers to replace those we are losing.” 

“Unfortunately, young people think the game is slow and boring, so bowls must adapt. One way to do that is to introduce faster formats, as cricket has done. Bowls England recognises this need and is promoting Casual Lawn Bowls, which we will be supporting. The rules are essentially the same, in that the aim is to get closest to the Jack, but with fewer Ends played. There’s no dress code either, aside from flat shoes. Some perceive bowls to be stuffy and the formal dress code contributes to that image. By relaxing the rules and by shortening game times so that they take an hour rather than hours, we hope to appeal to a new generation.”

“This Casual format has worked well in other countries, notably Australia, so we hope people will give it a go. Bowls requires some skill, but it’s not difficult to get the hang of and it's very sociable too.”

Bowling Comrades

Back in 1967, the West Sussex County Times ran an advert for the possible formation of a new bowling club, to play on a new green built by Horsham Council in the park. After a public meeting, Horsham Park Bowling Club was formed with Robin Peters – only 25 at the time – named first Secretary. His parents Percy and Edith were also founder members. Robin, the only surviving founder member, is currently unwell, but his brother David Peters remains an active member and his name also features on the Honours Board. 

David said: “My parents met on the bowls green in Dorking and moved to Horsham in the knowledge that the Council were building a new site. My dad was the club’s first men’s singles champion in 1968 and my mum was part of the winning pairs team. In the 1960s, many clubs didn’t host mixed matches, but right from the outset, ladies have been an integral part of the club.”In 1973, Horsham Park Bowling Club was joined by Warnham Comrades Bowls Club in a ground sharing agreement, as the Comrades had lost their own green in the village, after playing there since 1934. With both clubs experiencing a drop in memberships, they amalgamated in 2002 to form Horsham Park Bowls Club, wearing Warnham’s colours.

Today, it is one of the few local clubs with an outdoor green, with others including Horsham (based on Pondtail Road) and Southwater. Both these offer short mat bowls too, so their members can play a form of the game all year round. Horsham Park doesn’t have that capacity for short-mat, although the indoor facility in Broadbridge Heath means anyone wishing to keep playing in the colder months need not travel far. 

Competitive Edge

Horsham Park compete in three leagues and also plays friendly matches and in-house tournaments. The Mid Sussex Bowls League matches are played on Tuesday evenings, where Horsham Park’s opponents in Division 3 include Southwater and East Grinstead.

David Spurr, Club Chairman, took up the game in 2007 after inheriting a set of bowls from his father. He went to a taster session and took up short mat before becoming a member at Horsham Park. He said: “In the Mid Sussex league, teams must have at least one player of both sexes. This gives matches a more sociable atmosphere, although it's still competitive and taken seriously. Our men’s side play in the Border League, which uses a similar format, with each club having three teams at a match. Sometimes, you see a bit of needle and there are clubs that really go for it, with lots of high fives. We tend to be more gentlemanly!”

‘We also enter the Nellie Mercer League for ladies, host internal competitions and play friendly matches against about 40 other clubs, so there’s no shortage of opportunities to play.”

Ladies Bowls

The ladies’ game is strong and there’s a good balance is terms of membership numbers at the club. Ladies Captain Bryony Wood said: “We are competitive, usually fluctuating between the two divisions of the Nellie Mercer League. In the higher division, we come up against established teams who play together regularly and tend to get better results. But our ethos is to give everyone a chance of playing.”

“Playing bowls gives you the chance to visit other villages, meet people and of course enjoy lovely teas afterwards. That was case before COVID anyway and at the moment we’re down to tea and biscuits! The social side has always been important.” 

“Bowls is a big part of my life and when something comes up, I always look at the calendar to see if it clashes with a match. Of course, if you work in the daytime, you’re restricted to weekends and evenings, but it’s still possible to play and it’s one of the few games that doesn’t require a partner. It’s wonderful, especially on Sundays when there’s music on the bandstand.”

Town Challenge

If the club has a grudge match, it’s the fixture against Horsham Bowls Club. The two compete annually in the Town Challenge, playing legs home and away for local bragging rights. However, more troublesome neighbours in recent years have been the foxes. The club had to erect an electrified fence to protect the rink, as Club Captain and greenkeeper David Turley explains…

“Huge chucks of the green were being dug up at night, so we put up a camera trap and saw a vixen and two cubs jumping around and ripping up the grass. David Attenborough eat your heart out! We tried to deter them in various ways, but in the end put a fence up, which worked. Now, the green is perfect and we just need to attract new players. It’s a good game for people of retirement age, as it’s not that physical, but it has something for all ages. So come down and see what bowls can offer!”


Further information: www.horshamparkbowlsclub.co.uk