Connecting Clubs with Community – Bendigo

by Team BV

On a sunny day in Bendigo, North Bendigo BC hosted a come and try day for 15 eager bowlers employed with Radius, a local disability support organisation.
Although this sounds similar to a number of other all abilities programs run by bowling clubs across the state, there is a lot more to this day than first meets the eye.
The day was part of a broader program looking to develop more inclusive club environments in the area, as part of a pilot of the Connecting Clubs with Community initiative. The day began with a club inclusion information session for clubs in the area, which aimed to share ideas, hear some success stories from other clubs and outline the opportunities to expose the club to a broad range of potential bowlers.
Representatives from North Bendigo, Bendigo VRI and Eaglehawk BC’s attended with VRI’s Marjorie Gorrie and Margaret Rosewall playing a key role in sharing their experiences and the benefits of being an inclusive club. “We don’t see disability, we only see ability. We make sure everyone is included and has the chance to be involved.” Marjorie shared. “We have a motto; it’s all about fun, friendship and fellowship.”
The club’s commitment to inclusion was highlighted when Marjorie shared Margaret’s story, who after a number of health issues developed a vision impairment and is now supported by Letty, her trusty guide dog. 
Through the club’s support and encouragement Margaret continued her involvement not only as a bowler, but also in a number of other roles including Vice President, CCO and IT Coordinator.
She’s since gone on to represent Victoria with Blind Bowls Victoria at the National Championships taking home silver in the Mixed Pairs with Len O’Brien and her director, husband Brian. Margaret added that people with a disability have a lot to offer and can’t be discounted on first impressions, something that she herself has experienced in recent times.
“People with a disability have a lot to offer, particularly when it comes to competition, they want to win just as badly, if not more so than anyone else!” 
This sentiment was echoed by Radius’ Scott McLarty who during the information session highlighted the various roles people with a disability can play within a club; whether it is as participants, volunteers or in a number of other roles.
Other speakers on the day included Regional Bowls Manager Josh Thornton, Bowls Victoria’s Scott Nicholas, and Laura Bradley and Natalie Lake from Sports Focus, the Regional Sports Assembly that play a key role supporting over 820 sporting clubs in the Loddon Campaspe region.
“It was great to see bowling clubs opening their doors to people in their community. It was a truly valuable experience for both the clubs involved and the participants,” says Laura, while Natalie added “As there are so many barriers people with disabilities must overcome to participate, it was fantastic to see a number of local clubs supporting the Come and Try day.”
The come and try section of the day saw 15 bowlers, many trying the sport for the first time take to the green for just over an hour of bowling activities. Although there may have been a few put down on the wrong bias, the focus wasn’t on having the right technique or being the best bowler, the focus was having a bit of fun and learning some new skills along the way. A number of participants also showed an interest in coming back and giving it another go. Special thanks to Marjorie Gorrie, Con O’Shea of Eaglehawk BC and Graeme Clarke and the volunteers from North Bendigo who assisted on the green. 
It has sometimes been a struggle for bowling clubs to expand their reach into the community and get a broad range of people involved.
A lot of clubs run successful barefoot bowls, a lot of clubs do great work with corporate groups, while others have found their niche working with local schools and people with a disability.
But it’s combining these initiatives and integrating them into the everyday aspects of the club which has always been the challenge. It’s fantastic to see clubs constantly removing barriers and enabling more and more people to get involved with their club. By expanding their focus to include everyone within the community and embracing them as an integral part of the club, clubs give themselves the best possible chance of increasing participation and a number of other long-term benefits.
The Connecting Clubs with Community initiative came together from conversations between Sports Focus, Radius, Regional Bowls Manager Josh Thornton and Bowls Victoria.
If you’d like more information about developing greater connections with your community, or hosting a Connecting Clubs with Community session in your Region; please contact Scott Nicholas 03 9861 7111 or