June Club of the Month 2022
Think bowls may be a bit too staid and steady for you? Well think again.
If you have never tried the game before – the message from the Swan Bowls Club is simple – give it a go.
Based at the Riverside Indoor Club in Winchester, June’s Parasport Club of the Month winners have a sole mission to make the sport they love accessible to everyone.
Every Tuesday members get together and hit the carpet playing as pairs or individuals.
Bowls is truly an inclusive sport, where disabled bowlers can compete against non-disabled bowlers at any level and the Swan Club is the living proof.
Organising Secretary Carol Asher is instrumental to the group, helping to organise, motivate and support all members.
“The club has been going for about 25 years now,” she explained. “When the Riverside was first built through lottery funding, part of that came on the basis we provide facilities for people with a disability to be able to play bowls.
“The club was set up and has gone from strength to strength ever since.
“Our volunteers in particular are probably what make this club so special. They just assist our players wherever they can.
“Whatever a player needs in order to be able to play they will provide it, whether that be help with mobility or the equipment required to play.
“But they also bring a fabulous sense of community here. It’s a great group of people and we always have such a lot of fun together.
“Sometimes if people, either with or without a disability, haven’t done any sport in a long time can find it difficult to try something new.
“But this group is so supportive and welcoming.”
The Swan Club operates on a Tuesday, but bowlers can then join the wider Riverside as full members and play all week, with competitive matches involving both disabled and non-disabled participants.
Carol’s husband Mike coaches the bowlers from their first session at the club and says the rapid progression of the members shows that first-timers need not worry about natural ability.
“We just want the message to be, ‘don’t worry about skill level’,” he said. “Or how you bowl, or if you’ve never picked up a bowl before.
“If anyone thinks ‘I’d like to give it a try’, then we want you to join us.
“Some of the players have progressed so well and are now playing in leagues, friendly matches, and tournaments with other clubs.”
The Swan Club is known for a warm welcome, with every player, volunteer and coach making a point of greeting each other as soon as they arrive.
But it also has the equipment and facilities needed to truly cater for every player.
If required, a platform lift to access the floor has been installed to assist bowlers and wheelchair users to get onto the green, with the club also utilising two powered wheelchairs, with two more coming in the coming months.
For players such as long-time member Andy Holder, Tuesday has become the highlight of the week.
Andy and other club members have even started to compete further afield.
He was part of a trio that won a Disability Bowls England inter club triples tournament at Basingstoke earlier this year.
“Every time I come down here, I enjoy it,” he said. “It’s not just about the bowls itself, it’s the social aspect as well.
“It’s a very friendly club. Everyone speaks to you, and it makes a difference. I’ve made some good friends here.”
Chrissy Simpson is one of the volunteers who support players like Andy both on and off the carpet.
She said her work supporting the players is incredibly rewarding.
“When I joined Riverside about six years ago,” Chrissy recalled. “I checked out the noticeboard and saw they were looking for volunteers for Swan bowlers.
“I thought ‘yeah I’ll have a go’. I just love helping friends to continue to bowl, it has brought me into a whole new community.
“It gives me a great deal of pleasure. Some of them have been playing for many years and are much better than me.”