When members talk about the future of their Clubs a common thread is whether they are a bowls club or whether they should become more of a community club. It soon becomes clear that people have got very different ideas of what being a community club or being part of the community means.
The Newmarket Bowls Club is an example of a community centre that just happens to have bowling greens where bowls is just a sideline to the venue hire, etc. This isn't a desirable outcome for keen bowlers.
Clubs like Pine Rivers are community clubs where, while they maintain the bowls, it is primarily a licensed club and venue. Most bowlers don't want this either, although bowlers in these clubs enjoy the benefits of excellent bowling facilities and major events funded by the broader club activities and run by professional management.
Other clubs get absorbed into bigger sports clubs which brings them more resources and usually better management, although the commitment to bowls can be doubtful.
So what does that mean for a small struggling club?
No club is immune to this trend. There is no future for any bowls club that wants to continue operating as they have for the past 40 years. They are all fighting over the reducing number of aging bowlers. That also means a reducing number of volunteers, and a reducing pool from which to find committee members.
However, social and informal bowling is on the increase. Over the last five years, regular social participation in bowls in Australia has increased year-on-year. Clubs need to find a way to get a share of that activity, and aim to convert at least some of those into full members.
When I look around my area, the demographics and the competition, there are some great opportunities for the local bowls clubs to carve a niche that is neither the Newmarket or the Pine Rivers model. We have dormitory suburbs with few if any public community facilities. We have lots of retirement villas and an increasing number of townhouses (high density, no garden). Lots of people over 70 but also a lot of multi-generation households, professional couples, and a growing number of “super-diverse ethnoburbs” https://theconversation.com/the-rise-of-the-super-diverse-ethnoburbs-90926.
What clubs have to do is identify needs within the wider community and see how they can cater for it, using their facilities and bowls as part of the answer.
Building social networks works best when people get to know each other over a shared activity/interest – e.g. community gardens, mens sheds and many volunteers groups. “Networking” as an activity frightens a lot of people but doing it as they share an activity makes it much more attractive and less daunting.
Bowls can be that activity but it can’t be the drawcard. Jack Attack lends itself well to this but it needs to be targeted at groups so that when people come they get more out of it than just bowls. For example, a weekly business networking barefoot bowls/Jack Attack could provide support for small, home and micro businesses. Clubs in Victoria arrange Bowling with Babies to provide social support and exercise for young mothers.
The employment networks have target groups like the 50+ employment schemes where they try to match employees with employers (government funded of course) That could be a Jack Attack 50+employment networking that brings them together and the employment networks may even sponsor it.
And of course you have the Junior bowls with schools – or maybe support groups for autism or homeschoolers, and “Play with Gran” Junior Jack Attack days.
For any activity like this, the club needs a core of people to get it going. Then they should try to find members within the new groups to take over ownership and organisation of their activity so the volunteers can move on to starting another group.
None of this stops traditional bowls happening at the regular times, and it could help your club carve a niche as a genuine community club with bowls as the core activity.