I am pleased to present this, my final Annual Report, on behalf of the Board of Bowls England.
The past 12 months has certainly been one of significant change for the organisation, and is likely to continue in similar vein throughout 2020.
David Mitchell‐Gears MBE stood down as Board Chair in November. I had worked closely with David since I was appointed Chief Executive of the English Bowling Association in 2003. There are very few who have given more to a single sport than David for such an extended period of time but I am sure he is enjoying his retirement. David Tucker was elected as Board Chair and will take up the post formally at the AGM for a three‐year term. I know that David is already committed to giving his time to the challenges that lay ahead.
The Board, following a recommendation from the Management Audit and Review Committee and consultation at the Counties Meeting, has also agreed to appoint an Independent Director (Marketing & Communications) to lead our work to promote the sport to a wide audience. A Marketing Working Group has also laid the foundations for various means of enhancing the profile of the sport, and our incoming Director will be ideally placed to oversee the development of these.
The Management Audit and Review Committee has also undertaken a great amount of work in several work areas including a governance, safeguarding, risk and succession planning. This has resulted in a number of recommendations being made to the Board for deliberation.
On a personal level, as many of you will be aware, I announced my intention to retire from my position of Chief Executive in September last year. At the time of writing the Board is undertaking a thorough recruitment process with external consultants to appoint my successor, and it is envisaged that this will be concluded ahead of the AGM. Finally on the personnel side, our Business Services Manager, Penny Maguire, has also announced her intention to retire at the end of this year. I would like to take this opportunity to express my personal thanks to Penny for her work and support since she first joined me at the English Bowling Association in 2005.
Operationally, the past year has already seen a number of identified key priorities being addressed by the Board. Substantial investment has been made in our new‐look website, which was launched ahead of the National Championships in 2019, and the Competitions Portal that will be fully in operation for the forthcoming season. Both had been identified as areas for improvement during consultation with our members.
Warwick District Council has recently given approval for our new offices at Victoria Park Lodge. This is significant progress and we are now in the process of working through the formal agreements with the Council before any refurbishment work is able to commence. Further updates will be issued as details become known however at this stage we envisage moving into our new home during 2021.
The implementation of the National Membership Register was identified as a key priority by the Board, in response to feedback from County Associations at our Regional Meetings. To promote this development, additional funding was approved for the appointment of a dedicated member of staff on an initial 12‐month contract. I am delighted that Jamie Chestney, who brings a wealth of experience from his time with the Bowls Development Alliance (BDA), has now joined our staff team to lead this work. This resource will be vital in the short‐term given the increasing workload that the office now faces, especially in the areas of club support such as constitutions, disciplinary, legal issues, data protection and facilities.
Disciplinary in particular has provided a significant increase in work. The Chair of our Disciplinary Committee, John Durston, has asked me to remind all Clubs and County Associations that all matters relating to discipline or misconduct will be dealt with in accordance with the provisions of Bowls England Regulation 9, and their constitutions worded accordingly. A number of amendments were carried out to Regulation 9, Regulation 9A and Regulation 9B, which were approved in September 2019 and have now been published on the Bowls England website. In order to assist members to fully understand the requirements, a number of simple User Guides have been prepared and circulated to all Clubs and Counties should they have to resort to disciplinary measures.
The past year has also seen Bowls England and the English Indoor Bowling Association Ltd (EIBA) take responsibility for Coach Bowls. We continue to work closely with the EIBA in a number of other areas including safeguarding and facilities, and it is evident that both organisations benefit from the sharing of resources and skills, particularly within our respective staff teams.
Due to the falling number of volunteers available to support clubs with bowling green issues, the Board has undertaken a review of the Greens Maintenance Advisory Service. We have acquired the support of a specialist advisor to assist clubs, and during the course of this year will be working to develop a number of advisory guides and tutorials that will be accessible online.
However, none of these improvements are ‘cost‐free’ and 2019 has been a pivotal year in our finances. After several years reporting surpluses in tens of thousands of pounds, the surplus this year is just over £7,000. This reflects both declining income and increasing costs, and with ‘big ticket’ items such as Coach Bowls, the Membership Register and cost of running our own offices once we vacate Riverside House, the Board will be exploring opportunities to redress this via other sources such as sponsorship and improving the return on reserves.
Looking back to the 2019 season, and an early highlight was the annual Bowls England Week at Potters Resort in Norfolk. The event provides an excellent opportunity to meet with our members, including many who do not have regular contact with Bowls England, and to pass on practical coaching advice to help players to improve their game at one of the many ‘masterclass’ sessions. It also generates significant commission‐based income for Bowls England.
On the playing front, the major international event of the year was the Atlantic Games. Congratulations to all of those who represented Bowls England at this event. The team’s performance ensured that we will participate in all eight disciplines at the World Championships to be held in Australia later this year. However specific mention must go to Men’s Singles (Jamie Walker), Men’s Pairs (Steve Mitchinson and Jamie Walker) and Women’s Triples (Jamie‐Lea Winch, Lorraine Kuhler and Sian Honnor) who achieved Gold Medals in their respective events. Closer to home, and further success was achieved at the European Championships, where Andrew Walters and Tristan Morton topped the table to claim the Gold Medal in the Pairs.
The National Championships in August were once again widely regarded as a success, with more than 3,000 participants competing for the 34 national titles on offer – and a total of 1,401 matches. I must take this opportunity to thank all those who contributed to the event with particular reference to the Staff and Presidential Team, volunteers (including markers and umpires) and Warwick District Council without whose efforts the 30 days would just not be possible.
The countdown to Birmingham 2022 Commonwealth Games is now on, when Victoria Park in Royal Leamington Spa will host the Lawn Bowls events. Whilst this will provide a golden opportunity to promote our sport both locally and nationally, it is already evident that the Commonwealth Games will have an impact on our own activities over the coming few years, including the National Championships in 2022. Bowls England is actively involved in early discussions with the Organising Committee, Warwick District Council and other key stakeholders. Further information will be communicated once known.
In the home internationals, the Senior Women were successful in Jersey but the Junior Women missed out by the narrowest of margins to hosts Scotland. It was Scotland who took the honours in both the Senior Men’s and Junior Men’s Series. This year the Senior Women will be on home soil in Royal Leamington Spa and it would be great to see a large home support. The other events will see the Junior Men travel to Ayr, Scotland, whilst the Senior Men and Junior Women series will be in Llandrindod Wells, Wales.
As we look to support the next generation of international players, the Bowls England Academy Weekend was held in Royal Leamington Spa in May. The weekend consisted of a combination of different elements of the game, which were deemed to be important for the development of these young bowlers.
As with many sports, volunteers continue to provide the backbone of bowls at all levels, and I must thank each and every one of you for your efforts – whether that be as a green keeper, administrative officer, umpire, coach or any other role. In recognition of the sport’s reliance on volunteers, Bowls England has been delighted to make funding available to clubs and individual members in support of their attendance on recognised courses including safeguarding, greens maintenance and coaching. We will endeavour to increase this provision over the coming years, subject to available resource.
Our Civil Liability Insurance service continues to provide a significant benefit for all our affiliated members. Bowls England is only able to obtain such advantageous rates due to the economies of scale to be achieved from such a large take up. In return Sutton Winson continues to provide significant cost savings which, for many clubs, far outweighs the cost of affiliation. I take this opportunity to encourage all of our members to ensure that their insurance needs are met ahead of the 2020 season.
In preparing this Annual Report, the Chair of Bowls England wished me to formally record his sincere thanks to all who continue to contribute to Bowls England and our sport as a whole – whether it is at club, county, national or international level. In doing so, it would be remiss not to highlight the work of County Administrators who provide a vital link between Bowls England and our clubs. Mention must also go to those County Authorised Representatives who will be standing down at the AGM in February 2020. All are volunteers and fulfil their duties to the best of their ability.
The Chair also wished me to thank his fellow Directors, all of whom continue to give their time and expertise freely to serve you all, the Staff Members who demonstrate their commitment to Bowls England throughout the year and our Presidential Team, which is in many ways the public face of Bowls England and travel several thousand miles to attend Celebration Matches and International Events in addition to their support of the National Championships.
Finally, as Chief Executive I am personally very proud of the efforts of everyone involved in supporting Bowls England throughout my tenure. Bowls England, and the English Bowling Association before it, has been my life since 1st April 2003 and I am extremely proud of what has been achieved.
In making the decision to retire at this juncture in my career, I feel that Bowls England is now established as a much respected National Governing Body. The first stage of Bowls England’s journey is complete, and it now finds itself in an excellent financial position with some exciting projects ahead that will naturally present inevitable challenges.
I have enjoyed an excellent working relationship with Directors, Presidential Team and County Associations, and in fact all that are associated with Bowls England. The Staff at Bowls England are second to none. Each and every one of them have been appointed by me and they too dedicate part of their lives, over and above the call of duty.
I thank all with whom I have worked for making every working day an enjoyable one and hope that I shall have the opportunity to say my goodbye in person and, whilst I intend to spend a period of time away from the sport, I will of course maintain a watching brief and look forward to meeting you all again at some point.
Tony Allcock OBE
Chief Executive – Bowls England