After a successful trial in 2015, East London Vision in conjunction with Metro Blind Sport, Walthamstow Borough Bowling Club and Motivate East launched WBBC first ever VI Bowls season during 2016. Made up of 10 FREE sessions, the sessions were open to anyone living with sight loss, in East London or surrounding areas.
Bowls is not only a great game to take part in socially; it also helps improve confidence and general fitness of players. Visually Impaired Bowls England was founded in 1975 and is made up of more than 50 clubs and has around 600 members. Globally, there are 5,000 blind and partially sighted members of the International Association, which makes lawn bowls the largest outdoor activity for the blind in the world.
It is a very skilful game and involves the use of the same green and also uses the same lawn bowls, clothing and equipment as fully sighted players. Bowling for the blind and visually impaired follows the laws of the English Bowling Association, although there are some variations to the game.
Having run a successful taster session back in 2015, it was now time to run a whole season of VI bowls. An extraordinary story by all accounts, particularly when you consider that this had never been trialled in East London and perhaps above all, many of the members were pure novices to the game. As a result, therefore it was both an absolute honour and a pleasure for us to witness the development of the players on and off the rink.
We spent the first few sessions learning about the game (Rules/regulations), practicing (trying different woods) and socialising. So eager and competitive were the members that Bob Belam chairman of Walthamstow Borough Bowling Club often stated that the club could do with the vision impaired players competing in the upcoming club’s games, high praise indeed when you consider the club is on the verge of winning not one, but two league titles!
After 3 solid sessions of practice, many of the members had developed outstanding skills and were playing bowls independently. One member was so overawed by the game he once loved and played as a sighted person, that he took the opportunity of becoming a member of the bowls club instantly.
“I love this game, no other club would let me in or support me the way this club has and it is thanks to you, I have now discovered and rekindled my love for bowls again”
After toiling in the splendid sunshine for 4 sessions, the members were prepared and primed to take part in competitive games of bowls against one another. The games were always friendly, but well fought, the camaraderie and the chemistry on display was something quite special indeed.
As we approached the 10th and alas the final session of VI bowls, the sadness was evident and all parties involved wish to continue to play this year and wanted to repeat the season next year.
Partnerships are invaluable in all walks of life and therefore it was pleasing to witness more than 5 of the members joined Metro Blind Sport, as a result of this project.
The 10th session started with a little bit of drizzle, making the conditions quite tricky for the now expert bowlers, however adjusting and learning was a massive part of their repertoire. So perhaps it wasn’t all that surprising when the last VI tournament started, the players were used to the conditions and were in tip top form, playing in pairs and competing over 3 ends of hard-core VI bowls!
And when the finalists came out to bowl for the Bob Belam trophy, typically they were openly welcomed to the rink by scorching British sunshine, which we have become quite accustomed to in this country.
The first 2 ends were dominated by Shahid, who incidentally was probably the best developed bowler and hit the jack many a times throughout the 10 sessions!
2 down with 1 end to go Junnette the lady who played bowls after 50 years and James who rekindled his love for the game had to pull something quite miraculous out of the bag to survive, but survive they did! After 3 spectacular ends, the scores were 2 all, consequently a 4th end had to be played and here Junette continued her sparkling form by winning the title with her partner James!
This was followed by a short celebration, presentation of the trophy and some thank you speeches!
The club have been phenomenal in their support and what better way than to top it all off with a world-renowned delicious cake, made lovingly by Wender Belam, the wife of Bob.
We would like to take this opportunity to thank, Ian Francis (Sports Development Officer) Metro Blind Sport, Both of the VI bowling experts from Metro Blind Sport, Motivate East, our members for attending and last but most definitely not least, Walthamstow Borough Bowling Club, whose continued support and effort is much appreciated, your volunteers were fantastic.
Amit, who is a Vision Impaired bowler for Metro Blind Sport attended the sessions to coach, added: “I’m so pleased that local bowling clubs want to be involved and help out. The club members were wonderful; it was like bowling with friends, who understood your needs and wants.”
A couple of the members told us that they really appreciated Transport from and to Walthamstow Central station and huge thanks to Bob Belam once again, who ensured this was put in place prior to the sessions.
On her way out one of our members told us:
“Having not played bowls because of work and lack of opportunities, it is an honour to win the final competition, I have thoroughly enjoyed it and I’ve managed to get some brilliant photos too”
Fitzroy club Secretary added:
“I’m happy to help and support any VI bowler who wants to come and play with the club, I have enjoyed helping with the organising and managing the games”
Hassan Khan who is a project coordinator for the Thomas Pocklington-Trust stated:
“It has been an absolute pleasure in witnessing the members enjoying, competing – above all developing and making new friends, it has been hard work behind the scenes, but the partners involved have really been magnificent. Seeing the smiles on the faces of the members, at the last session, made everything worthwhile”
– Article by Hassan Khan