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Sporting Opportunities Isle of Wight

Steve Watson, chairperson of Disability Bowls England, earlier this year went along to Riverside IBC at Winchester to give them some support for their open disability competition. There he met a group from the Isle of Wight called Sporting Opportunities who had through crowd funding raised the money to enable them to come to the mainland to compete in the event (writes Judy Plater, DBE national development and administrative officer)

After chatting with Gina Wyatt, their co-ordinator, it became obvious they would welcome some support and coaching as currently they had neither. Steve and DBE management member Mark Bilsby and level two coach Geoff Fitch travelled to the island as part of the Bowls England Bowls’ Big Weekend to carry out some coaching and see how the DBE could help further.

They spent all day with the group and the players enjoyed the games and exercises which Mark and Geoff had put together for them.

Gina explained: “The group consists of about 15 members covering all range of disability, physical, visual and those with learning disabilities. We meet on a Saturday morning at the Cowes Community Indoor Bowls Club. Our members range from the age of eight upwards. We have a small supply of equipment although some of our members have bowls of their own.”

Some of the members have roll ups outdoors at other clubs on the island, but as a group they only meet indoors.

Gina has been playing socially and for fun, until 2022 she was helped run the group by a coach called Ken, who sadly had to give up due to ill health. The group doesn’t get much opportunity to play against others on the Island so tend to play amongst themselves. This year, they have raised the funds to enable the group to travel the competition in Winchester and another in Stroud. They attract members through word of mouth and social media.

It was a very warm day when the team went over and Steve opened the external doors to let some air in and was surprised to find a beautiful outdoor green beyond the door. He asked the group if any of them played there but he didn’t get an answer.

I contacted Bowls Isle of Wight for their comments on disabled bowls.

The county replied: “We used to have a disabled player, but he has passed away. Some clubs on the island have good disability access and a couple have wheelchairs for people to use.”

I suspect there are more players with a disability on the Isle of Wight, after all not all disabilities are visible, and we as an organisation are keen to support them as much as possible.

As mentioned, the group recently travelled to Stroud to take part in an event there. The event has been running for a number of years and the Isle of Wight team always enjoy going.

Their captain ‘Big Kev’ said: ‘“I am proud to be captain of the team, and to have such a wonderful team in front of me.”

Another member of the group is Eloise who is visually impaired she has only been playing for a relatively short time. Her directors vary depending on who is available; when she is bowling, she listens to the director’s voice and the loose change which is being rattled in the director’s pocket in order to get the right line. Eloise says what she loves about bowls is meeting other people, the practice and the competitions and feeling part of a team. Since Steve and Mark visited them, she has found using the string on the green so much help.

As well as bowls, Sporting Opportunities also run other events which some of the group take part in, for example swimming and track.The organisation was originally part of the Special Olympics,but is now a separate entity and has to raise funds itself to support its participants.

Sadly, we still receive reports from members where they receive a less than warm welcome from some clubs. There are often concerns raised by green keepers about wheelchairs damaging the green, especially when it is wet, they are designed with large wheels and approved chairs have been passed to be used on greens whatever the weather by the companies that lay and maintain bowls greens as well as the national governing bodies. Again, we hear comments about players having an unfair advantage using bowls equipment like arms or pushers, there is a real skill to using both of these and when used correctly they enable disabled or elderly players to enjoy the game for as long as possible, which is surely what we all want.

Equally, I recently spoke to a club in Surrey who have embraced inclusivity and now have a highly successful learning disability group which meet every Tuesday and thoroughly enjoy their bowls. I visited a similar group at Chesham Broadway BC in Bucks who meet every Wednesday. There are endless possibilities for clubs and counties out there to embrace people with disabilities and include them in their fixtures. We have physically and visually disabled players who play in the John’s Trophy, Middleton Cup, Amy Rose and Fynn Keyser (who has been selected for the World Championships in Australia) and Rhys Taylor, both DBE members, were in the White Rose team for Leicestershire which lost in the quarter finals at the regional play-offs.

A growing number of disabled people compete in the national competitions and have qualified and even won events at the Bowls England National Finals held at Royal Leamington Spa. On August 12, we hold our annual North v South match between our members competition for the Maggy Smith MBE Trophy which is great fun and showcases the variety of disabilities we support.

This year again, the finals of the DBE champion of champion singles and open pairs competitions take place during the championships on August 19. If you come along, you will see bowls of the highest standard. Our mixed ability triples takes place on the national championships greens on August 20, where a learning disability, visually impaired and physically disabled compete together.

During the championships, we hope to host a Q&A session where you and your club can learn more about inclusivity and diversity and the disabled bowls community.

Bowls is truly a game for everyone, and DBE is happy to provide advice and support to clubs and individuals who would like more information, please contact me if you have any questions at judy.plater@disabilitybowlsengland.org.uk

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