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VIDEO: Hundreds of bowlers march on Horsham town centre

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Hundreds of protesters packed out the town centre to show their support for the future of the Horsham District Indoor Bowls Club.

Last month Horsham District Council unveiled initial proposals for the Broadbridge Heath Quadrant, which would include knocking down the bowls club and building a replacement leisure centre and retail units in its place.

While some bowls facilities might be provided within the new leisure facility, many members feel even these would be insufficient to meet the club’s needs.

John Coghlan, chairman of the club, said: “The members want replacement facilities and they deserve it and it’s for them we are putting forward their arguments.

“You can see the feeling, and it means I will fight even harder on their behalf to get a bowls club worthy of the district.”

More than 300 people marched from the bandstand in the Carfax to the Shelley Fountain and back, waving home-made placards and banners. Others collected signatures from members of the public in support of the club.

Bowlers of all ages took part in the demonstration, as well as Meg and Mikey Georgeson, whose 11-year-old son Ralf, who attends Greenway Academy primary school, took up bowls when they moved to Horsham last year.

Mrs Georgeson said: “He is not an overly sporty child so it’s perfect for him. It requires skill and concentration.

“He would be devastated if it goes. He desperately wants to keep up with it and he is really enthusiastic about it.”

Mr Georgeson added: “I think they should encourage the bowls club as a hub and try to support it.”

Barry Baillie said the club’s junior section continued to expand as his grandson started playing at seven, with many younger siblings of current young bowlers keen to get involved.

Meanwhile the club’s press officer Ronald Backhouse, 79, spoke about the importance of the social side of the club to him and others.

He explained: “My wife died two-and-a-half years ago and recently I went through a very bad patch and the club was very helpful.”

Robin Anderson added: “It’s run like a community centre. People use the restaurant, it’s not just people going down there and bowling.”

Many others raised the fact that their eight-rink facility was a tremendous asset to the district, with 84 clubs visiting over the course of the season.

While several arguments have been put forward about membership declining to around 400, Mr Anderson pointed out that the club sees an annual footfall through the doors of about 20,000.

The closure of Broadbridge Heath Leisure Centre was announced in November 2011 with no replacement, but after a hard-fought battle by the Joint User Group, HDC agreed to provide a new facility, including six bowls rinks in June 2012.

But new proposals for the Quadrant have left many bowlers feeling out in the cold, as without the ancillary facilities the club currently boasts, they feel many would drop the sport, leading to the club’s demise.

In recent weeks Jonathan Chowen (Con, Cowfold Shermanbury and West Grinstead), HDC’s cabinet member for arts, heritage and leisure, has sought to assuage bowlers’ concerns by arguing that proposals are still at an early stage.

He said that any financial investment would have to be fully justified, and it would look at the bowls club’s revised business case.

The bowls club’s lease on the building, opposite the Broadbridge Heath Tesco store, expires in June 2015.

Heather Grant, who helped organise the protest, added: “I think it’s a disgrace.

“They have promised us all along they would find us room and now what have they done? He [Mr Chowen] said there’s not enough space for us, they just want to give us a tiny little area which is not a club.

“It’s not good enough and I’m sure in all that area they can find us space to build us just a six-rink. That’s all we ask for.”

 

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