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Jon Cockcroft: A Letter to the Bowls England community

15th October, 2020 by Matt Wordingham

As the winter woollies are dusted off, our radiators stir into life and the lawn gets a final cut, it’s timely to reflect on the 2020 bowls season.  For some it never started, for others it was their first season.  Some felt frustrated not to play competitively, others felt invigorated by a means of meeting up with friends.  Nobody imagined a season like the one that is now drawing to a close, and our hearts go out those who have experienced personal loss from Covid-19.

Whatever your experiences and circumstances, I wanted to share a few thoughts on behalf of Bowls England.  I am particularly eager to thank all those of you who had the energy and spirit to make the very best of this unusual season – the green-keepers, the sanitizer-buyers, the book-keepers, the bar staff, the coaches, the equipment cleaners and many more.  You are the lifeblood of our sport and your efforts are appreciated.  To all the players who made it out onto the greens, I trust you enjoyed being out in the fresh air, spending time with friends and renewing your challenge with the game.  To those who didn’t play this summer, we will be here when you are ready to return.

Four months into the role of Bowls England Chief Executive, I am hugely positive and optimistic about what’s ahead for our sport.   Benjamin Franklin once said, “Through adversity comes opportunity” and I believe it won’t be the adversity of Covid-19 that determines our destiny, it will be the manner in which we react to it.

In spite of the effects of Covid-19, this season has evidenced bowls’ capability and capacity to grow.  Many clubs have seen an influx of new players as the way people consumed our sport changed.  The Let’s Roll campaign has delivered hundreds of new club members and raised the awareness of our sport among thousands of prospective players.  When we surveyed non-bowlers, 86% of people had heard of bowls and 37% of those would be interested in playing in the future.  Most want to play for a couple of hours each week, many purely on a social basis.  We have a massive opportunity to increase our participant base by enabling people to enjoy our sport in bite-sized chunks, complementary to their work and family commitments.

Furthermore, the global pandemic has forced us all to do things differently and, whilst that has sometimes been difficult, it has also been eye-opening.  Remote working, more time spent locally, a greater focus on health and wellbeing and an increase in digital communications are some of the many changes to which we have all become accustomed.  I believe bowls has to embrace these developments and try to take advantage of this new environment.  Whether it be building on our wider use of technology to save the sport time and money or harnessing our natural strengths of being family-friendly, local, non-contact and relatively Covid-safe, let’s come together and make the best of it.

This summer has evidenced the value of National Governing Bodies across sport.  We regulate the environment in which a sport is played, develop its volunteers and infrastructure, promote its qualities, manage competitions and international teams and channel external funding and support, amongst many other things.  Bowls England is proud to have received so much positive feedback on our response to Covid-19, and we will build on this platform of engagement to heighten the regard in which we are held by our members.  We take our responsibilities seriously and want to live up to the high expectations people rightly have of us.

To this end, Bowls England has plenty planned for the off-season.  We will be exploring the broadening of our member services, developing a National Open Weekend concept for the 2021 Spring Bank Holiday to recruit new bowlers, planning for the competition season, progressing our governance work with advent of a new Working Party, improving our communications and identifying how we maximize Birmingham 2022.  If your club has not completed our Annual Club Survey, we hope you will spare a few minutes as your input will help shape this work and also contribute to the Bowls England strategy which will be launched in the New Year.

Thanks again for all your efforts during what will hopefully prove to be a unique summer for bowls.  Please stay in touch with Bowls England over the coming months by following our social media channels or by signing up to our e-newsletter.  Whether it be club finances or website development, the off-season provides a great opportunity to make progress in areas of club management and mitigate some of the damage that Covid-19 has done.  Our staff team are only an email or phone-call away, and are here to support.

To close, in the short time I have been at Bowls England, I have been inspired by the passion and energy that so many within our sport display.  The richly-deserved MBEs for Ellen Falkner and Maggy Smith shine a light on just that.  At club, county and international level we are united by our desire to see bowls flourish and are proud of the compelling, friendly, addictive and accessible nature of our sport.  It’s time to let more people in on our secret!

Stay safe, winter well and ‘roll on’ 2021.

Jon shared thoughts on a range of topics for a podcast recorded this summer. Click here to have a listen.

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