The onset of COVID-19 has brought unexpected change and challenges to bowls clubs across Canada. Here is a story of how one Canadian bowls club was able to face a different type of change head-on and find opportunities amidst a challenging time. While a pandemic and managing a relocation have vastly different challenges, many of the principles for dealing with change (such as growth mindset, collaboration, and having a positive attitude), remain the same.
The 2020 season marks the 97th year for the Calgary Lawn Bowling Club and its 5th season at its re-located site in the community of Spruce Cliff, where it shares a building with the Bow Cliff 55+ seniors organization. The Club hosted the 2018 Bowls Canada Boulingrin Senior Triples Championships to much acclaim as the newest and fastest outdoor greens in Canada.
The transition to the new location was not easy, and was years in the making. However, today the Club is thriving and looking towards its Centennial celebration in 2023. The Club offers some insights for other clubs who may be in the challenging position of transitioning to a new location.
In early 2009, the club received a letter from City of Calgary Parks, indicating it had been “decided not to renew the lease in order to convert the entire site into a high quality park for the community”, recalls Don Blair (past President of CLBC).
“The City wanted to turn our greens into a green space in order to get more green spaces in the core and by green space they meant park space. In doing this they agreed to build us new greens (equal to what we had before) and a new clubhouse”, said Heather Mackie – a member since being a teenager in the early 1980’s, long-time member of the CLBC Board, and now Secretary for Bowls Alberta.
“We were very resistant to change and to moving as we saw it as a negative for our club”, she added. “Once we realized the writing was on the wall we worked with our City rep to at least be moved to a new area that seemed a good fit and to work with them regarding the specifications of the greens and the need to have someone who understands bowling greens be part of the process.”
It was 2013 when a location was accepted by the Club Executive – one of two offered by the City. Then began the many meetings with City representatives, architects, and the Bow Cliff senior organization to decide on plans and a joint operating agreement.
Don remembers the day when “finally on September 28, 2015 the movers placed all of the Club’s belongings in pods to store at a storage facility. We moved into the new Spruce Cliff building on April 26, 2016.”
“We worked very hard at getting the correct people involved in the actual greens construction and seeding, and Kenny Olsvik (owner of Specialty Turf) did a lot of work and dedication through that process”, said Lindsay Mackie also a member since the early 1980’s, a long term Board member, and today is the club’s Treasurer.
Once the Club had been relocated to Spruce Cliff, then came the hard work of spreading the word.
“After our move we built upon the peaked interest of the neighbourhood who had watched a poorly used area be transformed into these strange, large green squares by inviting them in to give bowling a try”, Heather remembered. “The first year we spent lots of hours talking to every person who passed the fence and inviting people out for a walk to come in and watch or to come in and roll a bowl.”
Judy Blair, a long term club Board member, played a major role in advertising the arrival of the club. “Ads were placed in several surrounding communities’ newsletters, the Calgary Herald Swerve magazine (on a recurring basis), a Sport Calgary website, and many community websites. Posters were posted at all of the surrounding community association centers, The Wildflower Arts Centre, the mall adjacent to the facility, Safeway, Brookside residences adjacent to the bowling greens, at Senior’s buildings and centers, and Wildwood School”, she recalled.
In addition, Judy and other club members approached the Calgary Curling Club, Scout and Guides groups, other Calgary bowling clubs, and hosted Open House events.
Then began the lessons offered every weekday in June, July and August. A novice league was offered on Monday nights. That seemed to get things rolling, so to speak.
“Within a short time of the Club’s arrival, about 30 couples in the neighbourhood decided to give lawn bowls a try”, recalled Mike O’Reilly a 25 year resident of Spruce Cliff and today is the Club’s President. “We were so warmly welcomed by Judy, Don, Heather, Lindsay and others that it got into our blood. We were all couples of similar ages, where our kids were off doing their own thing. We were looking for something to get us off the couch and re-connected with our neighbours.”
Membership at the Club almost doubled the first year, growing from 65 to about 120 members. Today membership is 135, with about 20 new members signing up each year. “Although we never would have imagined it when we were told we were moving, the move was the best thing that could have happened to us and is the most important contribution for our current success”, said Heather.
“The other hugely important contribution was that of the core group that moved from the old location to the new location and the effort that was put into making those who decided to try feel comfortable and want to join”, she added.
“There is no doubt that hard working volunteers are the key to success, and the CLBC is no different”, said Lindsay. “We try to provide an inclusive atmosphere and some joy and happiness in the experience of lawn bowling, and at the same time promote competitive players.”
“While moving is a scary thought, it puts lawn bowling into a new area and, therefore, bringing it to the attention of many who would otherwise never had heard of our sport”, added Heather. “It is a lot of work to rebuild after a move but so many positives came out of the move.”
“Anyone looking at moving should study their proposed target district and then be patient as the plans are made and carried out”, Lindsay suggests. “You need a core of very good interested and committed volunteers throughout the process, but it can be done.”
“One often overlooked area is the relationships formed with City officials”, Mike comments. “Your City representatives and elected officials can be a great source of support when you need it. Invite them to your Club, keep them up to date on your Club activities, and treat them like your partner.”
So what about the future for Calgary Lawn Bowling Club?
Heather hopes that Calgary Lawn will “continue to be a thriving club with a mix of social and competitive players who all work together for the best of the club. To come out of the COVID-19 pandemic the same way we came out of our move — stronger and with a renewed sense of inviting new members to our sport.”
Bowls Canada’s assistance with helping clubs develop a strategic plan has been instrumental in helping the club develop a strategy for the future. “We have been working on our Strategic Plan going forward and will get to that when this pandemic is over and we can get back playing,” Lindsay comments.
“As President, I am so proud of how our Board has come together to develop a Mission and Vision that focuses on creating a welcoming, inclusive and diverse membership”, said Mike. “We have already identified new ideas for membership additions and retention. We are striving to diversify the revenue streams available to our Club, while keeping an eye on expenses. We are grateful to our financial sponsors and to the group rentals that are growing every year. Hopefully these actions will make us more financially independent going forward. Of course, that all takes a strong volunteer base – something we are lucky to continue to grow.”