Wisbech Indoor Bowls Club in dispute with Fenland District Council over £16,000 rent arrears debt

Wisbech indoor bowls club. Picture: Steve Williams.

Wisbech indoor bowls club. Picture: Steve Williams. - Credit: Archant

More than 60 senior citizens and members of the former Wisbech Bowls Club turned out in force on Tuesday morning in aid of a dispute with Fenland District Council.

The group, which once had over 150 members signed up to play its 2015/16 season, is clashing with the council over an alleged £16,000 debt racked up by its previous committee and treasurer.

The debt, caused by unpaid rent arrears, was discovered after the club’s 35 year lease ran out.

The morning event at Hudson Leisure Centre, Wisbech, which was originally intended for just eight people, but spread via word of mouth and resulted in a mass game with all four bowl lanes being used up when just two were originally booked.

Roger Rawson, club helper, said: “The Wisbech Bowls Club no longer exists.

“Our older people and senior citizens want to get off their couch and come and play bowls and they can’t at the moment.

“We’re still waiting to here from Fenland District Council about whether we can form a new club.”

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He added: “We’ve had no positive answers.”

But the large amount of people showing their support is testament to how important the club is.

“I just could not believe how many people turned up,” Roger added.

“It’s great for the image of the club, and all the rinks are booked for next week.

“We’re re-establishing ourselves from what we had, to build up on it. Our members funded the carpet, the changing rooms and the balcony.

“Our proposal will go through to the council when we know of all the costs and membership fees.”

Brian Newton, who has been with Wisbech Indoor Bowls Club ever since it started and leads a session for handicapped people on Thursday’s from midday to 2.30pm, said: “For this all to suddenly finish would be very sad.

“The whole area was really built for people of all ages, not just young people. It’s a lovely environment that allows people, who have known each other for years and years, to talk together.

“Nobody seems to know exactly what is happening. So many people have left the club and moved to different teams because no one has been able to tell them anything.”

However, the council are saying it is not the case that they are refusing to discuss the situation.

John Carey, policy and communications officer for Fenland District Council, said: “We are still hoping the club can develop a realistic business plan to show that it can be viable.

“So far they haven’t managed to do that.

“They haven’t told us how they propose to deal with the outstanding debt, nor have they come up with positive ideas to increase their membership.

“We met with Frank Howard, the club’s acting secretary, again last month, on July 23, and suggested that they approach Living Sport and ask for its support in producing a detailed business plan.

“After discussions with the English Indoor Bowling Association, we have also made some suggestions about generating more income through minor increases in annual membership fees and rink fees.

“To date they have not come back to us on any of this.

“We are doing our best to highlight the support available to the club and continue to hope that they can come forward with a realistic business plan shortly.”

Derrick Ramm, who helped organise Tuesday’s game, said: “That debt is nothing to do with us in any way. I do not think that the £16,000 sum should apply.

“If the council want that money now, they should pursue the person or people who caused it.

“That is where the source of the whole trouble lies”, he added.

Mr Rawson said that a business plan has been sent to the council and a proposal of how to raise funds is being discussed.

“Tuesday’s game made £80 for the Hudson centre. We could hold extra games over the summer indoors.

“We could become the Hudson Indoor Bowls Club. Sports Living have said they would help and I think we could even get a contribution from the Hudson Trust.”

Michelle Tanfield, Fenland District Council portfolio holder for sport and young people, said of Tuesday’s turnout: “I think it is fantastic that a team of people are really trying to get the bowls group re-established.”

The team would like to thank Roy Marshall and Derrick Ramm for organising the morning event and said: “Without them this would not have ran so, from all of the members, we’d like to thank them both for doing it off of their own backs.”