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Stoke Mandeville Bowls Club- home of the BWBA, to close

Stoke Mandeville Bowls Club, the home of wheelchair bowls, is to close.

‘Officials at the home of Wheelchair Sport at Stoke Mandeville are closing the indoor bowls hall, and depriving members of the British Wheelchair Bowls Association of the home they have occupied since 1974.

The British Wheelchair Sports Foundation (BWSF) โ€“ now known as โ€˜Wheelpowerโ€™ โ€“ have decreed that the facility is too costly, and have plans to convert the building into something more profitable.

The closure will effectively be the death-knell for the able-bodied Stoke Mandeville Indoor Bowls Club, who are based there, and will cause problems for the Britainโ€™s top wheelchair bowlers.

Ian Blackmore, the chairman of the BWBA said: โ€œItโ€™s a sad day for us, because bowls has been an ever-present sport at Stoke Mandeville since the late 1940โ€™s, when Dr Ludwig Guttmann pioneered the idea that sport could be part of the rehabilitation process for people who have suffered spinal injuries.

โ€œTo be honest, we consider Wheelpowerโ€™s figures to be suspect, but they apparently made their decision as long ago as last November, and kept quiet about it until April,โ€ he added. โ€œThe decision is all the more questionable because it comes in the year leading up to the Paralympic Games.โ€

Blackmore reports that his members are, โ€œdismayed, angry and bewildered,โ€ and adds: โ€œSome of them, who have been members for twenty years or more, and are normally mild-mannered individuals, are incandescent, and ready to man the barricades. It has come as a tremendous blow.โ€

But, while the BWBA may be able to find a new home outside the Stoke Mandeville campus, the decision spells the end-of-the-road for the SMIBC, some of whose 250 or so members may consider joining the Foxhill club in Aylesbury.

The rest – mainly elderly folk, who enjoy their game of bowls โ€“ will probably give up the sport altogether, forfeiting the social, aerobic and recreational benefits they derive from indulging in Drakeโ€™s ancient game.

The Stoke Mandeville Stadium was opened by Her Majesty the Queen in 1969, and was the birthplace of the Paralympic Games, at which BWBA members have won numerous medals over the years.

โ€œOur members go all over the world playing bowls,โ€ said BWBA Patron David Rhys Jones, who was the BBCโ€™s principal bowls commentator for more than 25 years. โ€œI know that they are intensely proud to say they play at Stoke Mandeville โ€“ sadly, they will not be able to say that in the future.โ€’

Taken from the British Wheelchair Bowls Association:

This is clearly a very sad time, and David Rhys Jones, patron of the BWBA has written about this tragic necessity in Bowls International.