The future of the Bowls facility at Stoke Mandeville and how it will affect the BWBA

I write on behalf of the BWBA Executive with news about the bowls facility at Stoke Mandeville.

WheelPower, the brand name of British Wheelchair Sport, has decided that the bowls facility at Stoke Mandeville is no longer economic and will be closing it, probably by the end of December 2011.

This message was first relayed to me in the middle of April. Since then there have been discussions within the BWBA Executive and with Stoke Mandeville IBC and on Friday 3rd June with members of the WheelPower board. I attended that latter meeting along with BWBA Patron David Rhys-Jones.

The original decision to close the facility was, we were told by WheelPower Chief Executive Martin McElhatton, taken unanimously by the WheelPower Board in November 2010. And it was clear from that meeting that David Rhys-Jones and I had on the 3rd that this decision to close the Bowls facility was not open to negotiation.

WheelPower’s case is an economic one. They say the facility is losing a significant amount of money each year; losses, which they say, will only get worse as SMIBC membership numbers decrease. Membership numbers are decreasing at SMIBC, this is fact and acknowledged by the Club’s officials.

But there is more than economics after all. We, the BWBA, are a significant wheelchair sport – arguably one of the founding wheelchair sports who are in effect being evicted from the home of wheelchair sport by the governing body of wheelchair sport. And all this will happen in the twelve months running up to the London 2012 Paralympic Games. I am not sure you could make it up!

I wonder what Ludwig Guttmann would have said?

Having read this so far you may be feeling upset, angry, bemused, all three? What is important is the future of the BWBA. We will do what is ‘right’ for the future of the Association. So what are the next steps? The BWBA Executive sees them as follows:

1. Now is the time to share this news formally with BWBA members even though there are still questions to be answered.

2. DRJ will be handling the PR and the news media. However, the BWBA Exec realises that if any individual feels sufficiently strongly about this matter to do something on their own initiative then it cannot stop them from doing so.

3. The National Championships will go ahead at Stoke Mandeville in September this year. This will in effect be the last time they are held at Stoke but they will carry on at a different venue

4. The December weekend is ON and we will have the annual match against SMIBC. I hope that as many of you that can attend will attend as a kind of ‘farewell to Stoke Mandeville’ send off party.

5. We are already thinking ahead to the future programme of the BWBA events and would welcome any input from members on this

6. Seek financial commitments from WheelPower for future financial support. Other wheelchair sports can continue to use Stoke Mandeville and will still be able to benefit from the subsidised prices for rooms, meals and facility hire. If the BWBA goes elsewhere, it is likely that the costs to the Association will rise. Whilst we have to firm up these likely extra costs, WheelPower were unable to commit to a continuing subsidy though have offered £5,000 which will run out in 2012. However, they will offer continued and open-ended support to all other wheelchair sports using Stoke Mandeville until further notice ie There is no time or financial limit for other associations. The BWBA is seeking equal treatment, nothing more. The WheelPower Board next meets in September.

The BWBA Exec will meet next in early July. In the meantime whatever you may think of WheelPower’s decision, the BWBA Exec is looking at this positively.

YES, we do not want to leave Stoke Mandeville.

YES, we have hard work ahead to sort out the logistics of rearranging the BWBA programme of events and relocation of the BWBA HQ.

YES, we want equal and fair treatment from WheelPower.

…and YES (and this is the really important one) this is an opportunity to take the BWBA into a new era. An era that those who have been involved in the past would approve of, keeping the influence and stature of the BWBA intact and offering current and future BWBA members and wheelchair bowlers in general a range of help, advice, advocacy, coaching, training, competition and more.

The BWBA Exec hope you will want to be part of the process of change with which we are faced and will want to be part of the BWBA’s future too.

For and on behalf of the BWBA Executive,

Ian Blackmore
BWBA Chairman
Tel 07932 791 519
6th June 2011