MEMBERS of a West Yorkshire bowling club for the visually impaired are playing on after support from a local housing association.
Pennine Bowling Club for the Visually Impaired received a grant from Together Housing Group’s Harnessing Diversity Fund to enable its members to continue the sport.
Club secretary John Palmer, a tenant with the social landlord, said the club was a lifeline when he joined 14 years ago after losing his sight to Retinitis Pigmentosa (RP), a genetic disorder of the eyes that gradually causes loss of vision.
Palmer, 74, lives in Ovenden with his wife Fran, 64, one of nine volunteers at the club.
“I started crown green bowling aged 40 when I still had my vision but when my sight deteriorated, I struggled to keep it up. By the time I was 60 I was registered severely sight impaired, so I had to swap crown green for flat green bowling,” he said.
“While in crown bowling you decipher the positions of the bowls by imaging the numbers around a clock face, flat green is played in lanes so is easier for those of us with visual impairments because we use string to indicate the centre of the lane.”
The club was founded in 1988 by John Newcombe, who was honoured with an MBE in 2002 for his services to the sport, and his wife Christine. The couple initially played indoor bowls at Huddersfield Sports Centre but as the club grew, so did the need for an outdoor flat green.
Following a successful fundraising campaign led by Newcombe, Wellholme Park in Brighouse was opened by Princess Anne in 1996. It is where the club, which currently has 22 members from the ages of 30 to 80 including the UK’s Visually Impaired Bowling Champion Gareth Harwood, still plays.
Although Calderdale Council subsidise the rent and maintenance of the bowling green, the club has found it increasingly difficult to raise the funds to cover the remainder of the hire fee and bowling green upkeep.
“There are not many sports blind people can participate in and ours is the only bowling club in West Yorkshire for visually impaired people. It brings people of all ages and abilities together twice a week,” Palmer added.
“For many of our members, bowling is the only activity they take part in so keeping the club going is invaluable for keeping these members active and social. If it wasn’t for the club, I and a lot of our members would be stuck in the house all week. It is not only a good source of companionship but also a great way of getting exercise and fresh air.”
Chair of the Together Housing Group board, Dave Procter, said: “Our Harnessing Diversity Fund is all about supporting projects or events that celebrate or promote diversity. Not only does Pennine Bowling Club offer people with no sight or limited sight the opportunity to participate in a sport at a competitive level but it also welcomes men and women of any age and ability, making it truly inclusive.”
To celebrate the funding, Pennine Bowling Club challenged staff from Together Housing Group to a friendly match. The housing association remained tight-lipped about who won.
Main Image: Steve Close, chief executive of Together Housing Group; John Palmer, secretary of Pennine Bowling Club for the Visually Impaired; and Dave Procter, chair of the Together Housing Group board