Lara Jets are flying high

by Melanie Allen

Even after moving into new premises around six years ago, Lara Bowling Club (LBC) was faced with a downturn in membership, and a loss of strong players led to multiple relegations across the Club.

With a new incoming Board (in 2019) came a new enthusiasm and the desire for change. It is a similar story around so many clubs. With a goal to drive increased community participation, whether the focus was on bowls or just as a social gathering place, the new Board made several decisions that set the scene for Clubs recent growth.

The first was to take advantage of their commercial grade kitchen which really wasn’t being used. So ‘Parma Night’ was born! With the support of many member volunteers to get it off the ground, the Club ventured out into their local community with both print and social media advertising. The response was enormous. Parma Night commenced in August last year until COVID shut the doors, but at the time the Club was averaging 70 meals each week. The biggest reward was seeing their social membership increase from a mere 3, to well over 100 in a such a short time.  

Barefoot bowls was something the Club had tried in the past, on a Wednesday, with minimal results. The decision was made to invest some money into running an organised barefoot bowls comp on Friday nights instead. The Club purchased 18 sets of barefoot bowls, having taken the initiative to apply for a Vic Health grant which funded the purchase. Providing a sausage sizzle was a no-brainer, and very quickly their barefoot bowls nights went from just 5-6 on a Wednesday night, to over 30 on a regular basis. This program produced 6 new bowlers last season who are now playing pennant.

LBC also saw a great opportunity with BV’s Bowling with Babies (BWB) program. With some help from their RBM they set about introducing BWB to drive further community engagement. The program ran for 2 blocks of about 6 weeks and averaged about 6 attendees each week. The Club’s ‘more mature’ female bowlers really embraced the program and enjoyed being an ear to a younger generation, while also spending time with the littlies while the mums were bowling. The Club gained over 30 new social members from the program, with one of the ladies going on to become a full member and pennant player last season. Such a great example of the outcomes that can be achieved by rolling out an organised program with the right help.

Like so many other clubs, their biggest hurdle has been the old school mentality held by some members, that it is ‘just a bowls club’. With 70% of the Club’s membership over 65 years of age, with natural attrition the Club could potentially not exist in 15 years’ time, without change. Luckily for the Board, enough of their members embraced the new programs and are now enjoying a new lease on life, and the chance to introduce our great game to others. According to Board member Anthony Briggs, “The key is getting the right people on the Board, who are prepared to make a difference, and put in the time.”

Briggs went on to say, “As I have said to Paul Holtschke (RBM) on many occasions, and what was to become a theme for our new Board, you need to ask ‘how can we…’ and give yourself an opportunity to succeed.” Briggs stressed that being open minded and taking note of what other clubs are doing is the way to go. “Quite honestly, the RBM’s can provide you with insight and opportunities about what others are doing and doing well. You have a resource, use it. We did!”

After an overhaul of the Club logo and uniform, the Lara Jets were born! They didn’t stop there though, additional new sponsors were brought in which led to them being able to build an outdoor seating area and upgrade their lights. They have also met with and engaged with their local councillors to discuss future funding opportunities.

Photo credit: The Geelong Advertiser

Lara Bowling Club has gone from 100 members to over 220 (including social) in just over 6 months, due to a lot of hard work by a group of dedicated people. RBM Paul Holtschke stated, “Lara Bowling Club’s initiatives to bring the community into the Club has proven to be successful on many fronts and has certainly helped them financially.”

Another success story, driven by a motivated Board, embracing new programs and readily available resources, to put themselves back on the map. Well done Lara Bowling Club!