The future of two long-standing Hastings bowls clubs is under threat because of a new charge being introduced by Hastings Borough Council.
Due to the local authority needing to cut spending, it is asking all the bowls clubs based at council sites to take on leases for their pavilions.
Alexandra Bowls Club and Clive Vale Bowls Club have each been hit with a £1,000 annual fee by the council to use the small pavilion which sits alongside the green they play on in Alexandra Park.
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The clubs, which have previously had free use of the pavilion, will also have to fork out for the building’s electric and water charges, as well as undertake the upkeep of it.
The council claims that no new charge is being introduced and that it is instead reducing the ‘significant subsidy’ bowls clubs currently receive.
Clive Vale secretary Graham Ellery said: “We would probably have to fold the club and we don’t want to fold.
“We’ve got a good club, everybody’s happy, we all get on well with each other. The last thing we want to have to do is split up and go to different clubs.
“I can understand the council’s position that they’ve got to try and rake in a bit of extra money, but it will be a very sad day if we’ve got to fold.”
Clive Vale have written a lengthy letter to the council saying they can’t afford anything like the price they’ve been charged and instead offering to pay £300 per year. The club is still waiting to hear back from the local authority.
Ellery added that Clive Vale Bowls Club, which has less than 40 members and plays friendly matches, will have to increase its membership fees next year as a result.
Asked what the reaction to the pavilion charge has been among members, Ellery said: “Shock I think really, although I suppose we half knew something like this was coming because obviously the council are trying every which way to save money.
“It’s quite a dire situation really. We’re hoping to hold on and be able to stay there, but we can’t do anything until we’ve heard back from the council.”
Alexandra Bowls Club celebrated its 125th anniversary season in 2018.
Alexandra’s club match secretary David Renno confirmed the council is seeking £1,000 per year from the club, but said he doesn’t know if members are leaving as the club’s AGM is not until the new year.
Joan Bones is the secretary of the Hastings & St Leonards Bowls Association, which is about to cease to exist through a lack of support.
She says the council has managed to undermine the association’s purpose by approaching the clubs directly and circumventing the association, and has now undermined any confidence bowlers have had in their clubs’ ability to supply.
She said: “The council’s doing a good job of killing bowls in Hastings.
“It’s such a good sport for older people. It’s a way for older people to be active and use a certain amount of physical energy at a time when you can’t play cricket or football and so on. It’s something that should be encouraged I think.
“We’re aware that the upkeep of the greens is very expensive and the council’s running out of money so everybody is happy to do their bit.
“But at Alexandra Park the building there is little more than a shed to be honest. Originally I couldn’t believe they were asking for that amount of money for that building.
“The members of Alexandra - or a large number of members - are so disgusted that they’ve chosen to vote with their feet and are joining clubs elsewhere.
“It’s quite likely Alexandra will fold completely and if that happens Clive Vale will be under pressure.
“I fear greatly that if both clubs fold, bowls will disappear in the park. It’s such a wonderful setting and it would be a real tragedy.”
A Hastings Borough Council spokesman said: “It’s disappointing to see the clubs’ and association’s views represented this way.
“There has been no new “charge” introduced as suggested, as of today we have only had open and frank discussions with bowls clubs about the need to reduce the significant subsidy they currently receive. Bowls facilities typically receive over £45k of subsidy per year.
“Given the council’s financial situation, we cannot continue with the current level of bowls subsidy.
“Our discussions have been with every club that uses our facilities. We had an open meeting with all association representatives, and in this meeting we then agreed to follow up with individual clubs separately about how they might be affected, and how they might be able to contribute to reducing the funding deficit.
“Our ultimate goal has been to protect our bowls provision by working with clubs to reduce their subsidy. The exact levels of “rent” and responsibility for maintenance are yet to be agreed, we have received the club’s proposals and they are being considered.”