Bowls England boss Cockcroft backing groundbreaking Big Weekend to catapult participation to new heights

·5-min read
Bowls clubs up and down the country will open their doors to host free taster sessions between May 28-31
Bowls clubs up and down the country will open their doors to host free taster sessions between May 28-31

Sport-deprived families hungry for a long-overdue dose of fun physical activity are being given a game-changing post-lockdown lifeline, writes Will Jennings.

And there's no better place than the country's buzzing bowls scene to broaden your horizons, meet new people and get back moving as coronavirus restrictions ease.

That's the message from ambitious Bowls England CEO Jon Cockcroft, who is spearheading an innovative nationwide initiative to encourage people to get down to their local green and give bowls a go.

Over 600 bowls clubs will open their doors to new players this month when May 28-31 sees Bowls' Big Weekend come to a venue near you.

The Bank Holiday bonanza will see clubs up and down the country run free, accessible, Covid-secure taster sessions and Cockcroft, previously Commercial Director at England Hockey and Marketing Manager at Warwickshire County Cricket Club, hopes the trailblazing campaign can be the springboard for a booming future.

Cockcroft, 43, joined Bowls England last year and hopes initiatives like Big Weekend can lay a platform for a booming bowls future
Cockcroft, 43, joined Bowls England last year and hopes initiatives like Big Weekend can lay a platform for a booming bowls future

Cockcroft, 43, who took over as CEO of Bowls England in June last year, said: "When people are looking for local, family-friendly, outdoor activities, this is the perfect opportunity to go along to their local bowls club and give the sport a try.

"It makes no difference if you've not played at all - whatever ability you are, you can play bowls.

"Our sport is a Covid-safe, non-contact, outdoor sport, and our clubs have done an incredible job to implement the guidelines and navigate around the practical challenges to make it as safe as possible.

"The simple premise of rolling that bowl up as close to the jack as possible is one that anyone can have a go at - all you need is a flat pair of shoes or some trainers.

"People of all shapes and sizes, abilities and ages can play our sport. Anybody can play bowls - and people will be assured a really fun couple of hours at their local club.

"Events like Bowls' Big Weekend are hugely important in promoting and helping to grow the game. It's been brilliant to put this energy behind it.

"We genuinely hope that thousands of people will be joining clubs off the back of this and we will really start to grow participation in our sport."

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Bowls' Big Weekend will see clubs across the country foster a safe, welcoming, family-friendly environment and with well over 600 venues registered, there's bound to be a taster session on your doorstep.

Bowls is a sport truly accessible to anyone and Cockcroft - supported by his energetic team and volunteers - is determined to combat the lingering perception it remains a preserve of the older generation.

The optimistic Cockcroft, who graduated from Oxford University before his successful sports career, added: "We're incredibly proud that bowls is a sport that can be played for people in the latter years of their life. That's very noble and for many people, bowls is their social lifeline.

"But we shouldn't prohibit people of all shapes, sizes, abilities and ages to the many, many benefits of the sport.

"I'm incredibly excited about what the future holds for bowls. I think it's got such huge untapped potential.

"It is such an accessible, doable, sociable sport - the skill is relatively simple but it's got that addictive, compelling and mesmerising quality that really does hook people for life.

"What we're feeling now is a resurgence of confidence - and we're feeling really positive about the future."

Bowls England are rolling out a flexible, pay and play option to maximise access to the sport for people who don't want to take out a membership.

And Cockcroft is hoping initiatives like that, coupled with further strategies including pop-up greens and roadshow-style activities, can catapult the sport to new heights ahead of next summer's Commonwealth Games.

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The planet's best bowlers will descend on Leamington Spa's Victoria Park for the Birmingham 2022 showpiece, the home of England Bowls and the scene of former glories such as Ellen Falkner MBE, Amy Gowshall, Jean Baker and Jayne Christie's memorable fours World Outdoor Championship triumph in 2004.

Cockcroft knows a home Games is a huge opportunity and reckons visible success on the biggest stage of all can capture the public's imagination.

He said: "Next year is going to be such an incredible year for us and a tremendous fillip for our sport.

"What I hope more than anything is that it will give our sport a real level of confidence.

"This is our Olympics - all the players will be incredibly excited and will really want people to see them, admire what they do and inspire them to pick up a bowl.

"I'm really looking forward to what we can achieve. We're really excited about the opportunity and the platform it will give us to grow the sport."

Find your nearest participating club at www.bowlsbigweekend.com