Star Cabinet: Call for permanent indoor bowls centre in Sheffield

Barry Smith bowls.
Barry Smith bowls.
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What in-demand sporting venue do Doncaster, Worksop, Alfreton and even Stocksbridge have that Sheffield doesn't?

The answer is something hundreds of city residents have been calling for for years - a permanent indoor bowls centre.

Stuart Wilson speaks at the Star Cabinet event.

Stuart Wilson speaks at the Star Cabinet event.

It was the first issue raised at last week's Star Cabinet event, when Stuart Wilson said the lack of such a facility was a 'sad reflection' on Sheffield.

Mr Wilson had some reassurance from council leader Julie Dore, a bowler herself, who said she was a 'woman on a mission' to get an indoor bowling centre for the city. But the clamour for a purpose-built hall is not new.

The bowlers playing on temporary mats on the tennis court at Graves Health and Sports Centre yesterday echoed Mr Wilson's comments.

Barry Smith, spending his 80th birthday on the rink, said: "I play outdoors, then come indoors during the winter. But it's the lack of facilities that's the problem.

Peter Maddison.

Peter Maddison.

"Even Worksop has it's own centre. They have got a proper set up.

"It's been the case in Sheffield for a long time."

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Bowlers play on temporary mats at Graves Health and Sports Centre

Bowlers play on temporary mats at Graves Health and Sports Centre

The only purpose-built indoor bowls centre within the Sheffield boundary is at Stocksbridge Leisure Centre, which is now volunteer-run. But for most city residents, Stocksbridge is out of reach.

Bowlers can also play on temporary mats at Sheffield Hallam University's sports centre in Bawtry Road.

Gaynor Collier, 65, from Bradway, plays once or twice a week at the Graves centre but would like to play more.

"There's nowhere else to do it, and the mats aren't down - only for matches," she said.

Council leader Julie Dore.

Council leader Julie Dore.

"If you want to practice then it's Stocksbridge, Alfreton or Doncaster.

"There are more than want to play and there are teams on the reserve list."

Peter Maddison, chairman of the Don Valley Indoor Bowls doubles league, said people had been campaigning for a permanent centre for over 20 years.

While praising the £16 million Graves centre, which opened in September last year, he said the limitations on time and space made it a less-than-ideal venue.

"What we can't to is develop, because the only time we have got is when league matches are on," he said.

"Stocksbridge has a permanent rink. When they want to use it for something else, they lay mats on top of it. That works quite well."

Peter's club previously played at Don Valley Stadium before it was pulled down. They were given space by Darnall-based structural engineering firm Ekspan and bought the mats with grant money, before moving to their current home.

But the four mats - which weigh about a third of a tonne each - have to be rolled up, moved and stored every day. They limit the scope of the game, preventing wider shots, and transfer the effect of any divot or piece of gravel.

Peter said the hall's limited availability was also preventing more players from getting involved.

Securing a permanent indoor centre would tackle some of the key issues facing older Sheffield residents, according to Peter - health and isolation.

He said: "We have got players here between 60 and 90-plus. We know about the problems that they already have with health and loneliness.

"This gives them a reason for getting out of the house and it does give them some seriously good exercise."

Ken Doleman, president of the Sheffield and Hallamshire Crown Green Bowling Association, said the city's indoor facilities were almost 'non-existent'.

"We are the fourth largest city in the country and we can't play it properly," he added. "We have been saying it for years."

Mr Doleman said he had seen both outdoor and indoor facilities close over the years, adding: "It would be nice to have a facility where people could go and play in the city.

"Every time a sports centre goes up we seem to be a very poor relation."