Is this the end? Deadlock over fees threatens bowling club

A 98-year-old bowling club on Horfield Common says it’s on the brink of closure.

The Ardagh Bowling Club has been in dispute with the Ardagh Community Trust (ACT) since the charity took over management of most of the site on Kellaway Avenue five years ago.

Now bowling club officials say they have been told they must pay the £12,500 a year maintenance cost of the bowling green – or move out.

ACT chief executive Sam Thomson says the club’s lease agreement is with Bristol City Council, and no one is evicting them.

ACT took over the site in 2019 when Bristol City Council was asking community organisations to run some park areas, in order to reduce its maintenance costs.

Since then volunteers have revitalised the long-neglected park area, with a new café, plant sales and wider community use.

But Sam says ACT cannot pay the bowling green maintenance costs to maintain a facility for the sole use of the bowling club.

Sam said: “ACT has secured a future for the Ardagh as a community asset. The alternative was that the site – including the public gardens, sports courts, bowling green and pavilion – was sold for development or privatised.
“Inevitably this has led to change – it was not sustainable as it was.”

She said the bowling club chose not to be part of the community project.

She said the £12,500 a year bowling green maintenance contract would be with the existing company Avon Bowling Green Maintenance.

“The charity (ACT) is legally obliged to use its resources only for public benefit – not private benefit. It is not permitted – nor would it be of interest – for the charity to subsidise a private members club.”

The trust says it will keep the green available for social bowling and other activities such as yoga and tai chi while trustees consider its long term future.

The bowling club has published notices on social media saying: “The bowling green will no longer be available to the club for competitive bowling.
“We as a club have been given “non-negotiable” option to use the bowling green for competitive bowling in 2024. The costs demanded are excessive and have been positioned significantly higher than the bowling club can afford.

“The Ardagh Bowls Club is due to celebrate its centenary in 2026 and has, since 1926, fully facilitated and provided a club for the community to enjoy.

We would like to emphasise the social, health and wellbeing attributes that our bowling club can provide for everyone.”

Bowling club secretary Jeff Arnold said the club had also been asked by ACT for £5,000 towards a general repair fund for ditches and surrounds, when in the past bowls club members had carried out this work. The club would also be charged £10 an hour to use the green.

He said: “One if our main objectives is to get the charity to come to the table and try and meet a compromise. This is something they have refused to do.

“Their demands are completely unaffordable and there must be a shift in their stance.”

Bishopston & Ashley Down councillor Emma Edwards said she had talked with both sides in an effort to find an amicable solution.

She said: “Accepting this offer is the best way for competitive bowls to continue at the Ardagh site. I think if the club were to accept that and work with the community trust it would be best for members.

“I really do hope this can be resolved between the two parties, as the site is clearly loved by the community and the bowling club members; but I think this solution is the only way I can see this happening.”

Old photographs show bowling at Ardagh in 1924. The Ardagh Bowling Club was formally started in 1926.
The green used to be maintained by Bristol City Council, but by the early 2000s much of the rest of the site had fallen into disrepair.