Bowls players fear long-established North-East clubs could be forced to close under council funding cutbacks.
Durham County Council has written to club bosses saying it is unable to sustain its current financial support for the 30 public facilities across the county – and asking local enthusiasts to take over running their own facilities “as an alternative to closure”.
But club bosses say the £5,000 they say they have been offered as a one-off payment to cover start-up costs such as buying machinery is nowhere near enough and their ageing members are unable to do the manual work needed to maintain their greens and pavilions.
Bowls is vital to keeping pensioners active and socially engaged, they argue, with the 30 clubs having hundreds of elderly members between them.
One club leader, who asked not to be named, said: “It’s terrible. We pay our rates and some of that goes to leisure.
“To ask someone in their 70s to cut greens two or three times a week, the health and safety would never have it.
“Everybody’s upset and thinking their club could fold. For the smaller clubs, there’s no way they’re going to stay open.”
The cash-strapped council is facing Government funding cuts of more than £200m and Simon Henig, its Labour leader, has repeatedly said every service must be reviewed.
The council manages around half of the bowls facilities across the county and, since the letter went out, two summits have already been held to discuss their future.
Consultation will continue until September, although clubs considering taking over running their facilities have been asked to express an interest by today (Monday, June 30).
The council hopes to reach “in principle” decisions by the end of August and have new arrangements in place by next spring.
Terry Collins, the council’s corporate director for neighbourhood services, said consultation was ongoing and no decisions had yet been made.
The authority would provide business advice and planning, Mr Collins added, and consider making start-up grants.
“Early feedback has been encouraging with many clubs receptive to the proposals as they have an understanding of the difficult financial decisions the council is having to make and also have a desire to see the clubs continue to operate.
“The solutions may include local partners or clubs working together,” he said.
Previously, the council has handed over the running of leisure centres, community centres and a golf club to volunteers.
Source – Durham Times, 30 June 2014