How Bowls’ Big Weekend brought thousands of new players to the sport

1st June, 2023

With clubs across the country opening their doors and gates in glorious sunshine, Bowls’ Big Weekend brought thousands of new players to our sport over the Bank Holiday weekend.

750 events took place across four days, with more than 550 affiliated clubs signed up to play their part in growing our game and showing just how friendly and welcoming bowls clubs are. Club data is continuing to roll in, and initial indications are that clubs saw a significant increase on the average number of people through the door, which was 16 per club in 2022.

With registered clubs sent a resource pack by Bowls England and partners Aviva, clubs were decorated with balloons, banners and bunting alongside barbeques, cakes and refreshments.  To further support clubs, Bowls England invested resources on national marketing through traditional and social media, reaching more than a quarter of a million people through social media alone.

First time bowlers Chris and Lucy attended Langwith Junction BC in Nottinghamshire and said:

“We spotted the advert on Facebook, we’ve always wanted to dabble and this looked like the perfect opportunity. We had a fantastic welcome and we’ve definitely caught the bug! Once we got out on the green we lost all concept of time and the loser has to buy dinner tonight!”

The event was publicised on both Sky News and BBC Breakfast, with Commonwealth Games ParaBowls medalist Craig Bowler showcasing the best of the sport as he spoke with great honesty about how the sport has – in his own words – “saved his life” following the loss of three of his limbs. Regional media also took the opportunity to promote our sport including BBC Local Radio and newspapers. 

Across the weekend there were many more stories of how bowls has made a huge positive impact on its participants. David Dyer of Old Coulsdon BC in Surrey said:

“I suffer from Parkinson’s and initially didn’t think I would be able to play because of balance issues. But my wife got me on a rink, and after three lessons I was able to have a positive stance. Now I can’t get enough of bowls, I play three or four times a week and I love it immensely.”

Bowls England representatives pledged to visit as many clubs as possible over the weekend, with England players plus members of our Performance Management, Board, Presidential and Staff teams attending a variety of clubs up and down the country throughout the weekend. It provided the opportunity for our international players to share their knowledge and passion with the people having their first taste of bowls.

Clubs relished the chance to be part of the nationwide initiative, aiming to promote our sport and encourage participation. Tony Ludbrook, a member of The Downsman BC based in Sussex, was delighted with their event saying: “It’s been a really enjoyable day providing an opportunity for local people to give our wonderful sport a go.”

“Recruitment of new players is critical to the sustainability of our club and reducing the age profile. The number of people coming to the club to play has increased over the last two years from Bowls’ Big Weekend and other club initiatives,” said Brian Hartgrove of Harpole BC in Northamptonshire.

Bowls England Chief Executive Jon Cockcroft said:

“I’d like to thank all the clubs and volunteers who made this a fantastic Bowls’ Big Weekend. Their enthusiasm for our sport makes bowls what it is today.  The effort that had gone into putting on the events was inspiring, and it was great to see new players enjoying giving bowls a try.

“I’d also like to mention the Bowls England team who make Bowls’ Big Weekend happen – this is a very important event in our calendar and it was great to see so many international players, Board Members, Presidential Team and Staff out at clubs. Huge thanks to Aviva in their first year as sponsors of the event for their commitment to bowls.  I certainly came away from the event energized and very positive about the future.”

If you attended a Bowls’ Big Weekend event, one of the best ways to stay involved with the sport is through Bowls Bash, our casual, shorter form of the game – see here for details. In addition if you just want to play, you can book a rink at participating clubs via the website or find a club near you with our Club Finder. 

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