PEGGY COLE, 86 FROM CAMBRIDGESHIRE
Sport didn’t really interest me as a younger person. There was always too many other things to do, so it really didn’t feature in my life until later on. The only thing that I did do was cycle and walk my dog. Both of which got me out in the fresh air and kept me reasonably fit. The cycling, in part, was out of necessity, as we didn’t all have cars back in the day, let alone two per family!
I took early retirement at the age of 57 due to my husband’s sight failing so that I could be at home to support and care for him. It was important to both of us that being an active man all of his life, that he was still able to get out and about, do things and meet and engage with people.
I was looking for things that he could do when someone in the village mentioned that there was an indoor bowls club around 5 miles away from where we lived, who ran a weekly session for blind bowlers. So, we went along and he loved it. It gave him confidence, helped him come to terms with his sight loss and introduced us to a whole new group of people. He enjoyed the competitiveness of it, both against others and testing himself, and for me, it was about the social side, getting to meet and talk to other partners who were doing the same as me, trying to support their other half with their disability. From indoor bowling, he then tried outdoors, which he took to well, which meant that bowls was something that we could do all year round together.
It actually wasn’t until he passed away that I began playing myself. I was 60 at the time, and I’m now 86! Over the past 25 years, bowls has been there for me, through both good and bad times. I battled cancer and bowls was without doubt, an important part of my recovery. Initially, when I wasn’t well enough to go out, friends from the bowls club would come around to see me, which gave me comfort and company. And then when I started to feel better, the bowls club was the place where I would go to get out of the house. Even though I wasn’t well enough to play at that point, there were always games to watch or people to talk to, so it gave me much needed lifeline.
I play bowls because I love it! The social side is really important to me as it means that I am in company instead of being at home by myself. I also like to play competitive team games. I hope to continue playing as long as possible but even when I can’t, the bowls club is still somewhere I can go and feel like I belong.
I think bowls can offer women many things. When you are older it makes sure you get some exercise, meet people and keeps you feeling young at heart.
NICOLA BOWE, 43 FROM WIGTON, CUMBRIA
I have always thoroughly enjoyed sport and gained a great deal from participating. I played hockey, netball, rounders and tennis for my school and was lucky enough to play for my county at hockey the North of England in hockey. I enjoy team sports and gain most from the team banter and camaraderie during competitive sport. I actually started bowling when I was 10 years old - it was just something “I did”. I was lucky that for us as a family it was a hobby that we could all do together at nights and on weekends. My dad played first, then my mam and brother and I soon followed! Now I have the delight of playing with my 18 year old niece. Luckily for me at Wigton Bowls Club there was a generation of young bowlers all of a similar age and we all grew up together; socialised together and remained tight friends - we were known as “the bowlers” in the town and we stuck together and still do today!
People often ask me why I bowl, well its quite simple, I just love it! It is a great game of skill combined with strategy and sports psychology. I thrive on team games rather than singles as I enjoy that team spirit, support and banter. For anyone who hasn’t played it must seem easy when watching but it is a great game of touch and skill. I also love being outside, so for me outdoor bowling is a great pleasure. I’m lucky living where I do that I can play on the most picturesque bowling greens, get some exercise while breathing in some good old fashioned fresh air. There is nothing better than getting on a bowling green on a summer evening! Now I am in a demanding job, I find in particular that it improves my mental health. Alongside bowling, I now visit the gym two to three times a week and find as I get older that both playing bowls and going to the gym has improved my mental well being through helping me to switch off and de-stress after a busy day working as a Deputy Headteacher in a large Junior school.
Having bowled for over 30 years now, moving into coaching seemed like a natural progression. I have always coached sport at a variety of levels - whilst doing my A Level PE I helped out in the school’s PE department coaching a variety of sports to 11 to 16 year olds. I then qualified as a primary teacher and have taught PE for two hours a week as well as providing many extra-curricular sports activities. Getting into coaching bowls has now enabled me to give a bit back to the real game I love and combine the skills I have from my profession.
I think bowls is a non-contact sport that can offer women low impact exercise as there is quite a lot of bending and walking in the game. As well as the physical benefits, there are many benefits of being part of great community spirit with strong team values. Plus you can play at whatever level you feel comfortable with. I don’t think there is any other sport where an 8 year old can play on the same equal playing field to an 80 year old and both compete equally! And bowls has a fantastic social side too - there is always a social event going on in a bowling club to get involved in.
JULIE LEAKE, 55 FROM POOLE, DORSET
I have participated in many different sports over the years including netball, hockey and badminton and have always enjoyed the camaraderie and competitiveness of being part of a team whether it was representing my club, county or country. I have also played more individualised sports including golf and tennis which I really enjoyed as it was really about me, my performance and being my personal best. In addition, I have run several half marathons and two full marathons between the age of 18-25. As well as the social and team side, sport has also provided a form of escapism from every day life and has always been there for me through both good and bad times.
I was first introduced to bowls back in 1994. I was thrashing a tennis ball around a tennis court at our local club in Ringwood when I hit a stray shot (one of many) which found itself in the middle of the adjacent bowling green where a match was being played. Upon retrieving the guilty object, I happened to mention how interesting the game looked and was invited to have a go! So, I went to try bowls and it actually proved to be perfect timing. I was struggling to continue to play high impact sports owing to a problematic knee but I still wanted to be involved in a competitive sport and bowls became my solution. Little did I know that it would play such a big part of mine and my husband Roy’s life together. We have shared an amazing journey together and he has undoubtedly been my number one supporter.
As well as playing sports, after landing a dream job at a local private school 30 years ago, they noted on my CV that I played various sports and asked if I would be interested in getting involved in the girl’s sports teams (14-18 years old) as they were looking for more support staff. A year later with a few coaching courses under my belt, I was running Netball/Tennis and Hockey teams and have been in that dedicated role until very recently. There is nothing more rewarding as a coach than watching your teams/individuals perform successfully knowing that hopefully I contributed in some way towards the positive outcome. As I have recently taken early retirement and have a little more time I feel that now is the right time for me to be able to put something back into bowls. Bowls has given me so much enjoyment over the years and I feel that with my coaching background, coaching bowls is an obvious avenue to peruse and I am already actively involved at my local indoor club with both the Junior section and our Adult Development groups.
I think more women should get involved in bowls as it is one of the few sports that can be played competitively no matter what you age. Women of 80 + can compete with teenage girls and what other sport could you take up after the kids have left home and still have the opportunity to represent your country. My lifetime ambition was to represent England in a sport and my dream came true when I took up bowls! From a 33 year old beginner to a 45 year old World Champion! So, no matter what age you start a bowls career anything is possible! The camaraderie that exists within the sport and the friendships you form are particularly invaluable later on in life. You will never be lonely if you take up this sport as everyone within your club becomes your extended family and members tend to look out for each other.
HELEN WOOD, 51 FROM YORKSHIRE
I was able bodied as a child and played all sports. Team sports were my main love - hockey tennis, badminton and rounders. Once I left school, I played basketball to a decent standard. It was then, in my late teens that I started to have problems health wise. I was in and out of hospital for over three years. Regardless of what was going on with me medically, the thought of having to give up playing basketball was devastating. Eventually I was diagnosed with Hemi-Dystonia, which is a neurological condition which affects my left side. I became a wheelchair user age 21.
From hospital, I went into rehab to try to learn how to live with my disability and it was there that I met Phil. I told him all about my love of sport and in particular Basketball and he suggested I tried Wheelchair Basketball. I did and loved it. I joined a club, played and trained regularly and actually went on to represent Great Britain from 1986 to 1992.
Sadly, my health then deteriorated further and I could no longer play due to the amount of contact involved. It was heart breaking. I went back into rehab and it was there that I met my now husband, Barry. On our first weekend away together, we went to a Hotel complex where they happened to have an indoor bowls green. I loved it and was immediately hooked. It was exactly what I needed. So, when we got back home, we found out where our local indoor club was and went down to play. From here, I haven’t looked back. I was the first wheel chair user to reach the EIBA national finals and have now got my England Cap for Disability Bowls England. I have also trialled with the women’s indoor team.
Bowls has genuinely given me a life and helps me to focus on the things I can do rather than the things that I can’t. I have always been a competitive person, I find that competition gives me a purpose and it drives me. As I don’t work, bowls has also been important from a social interaction perspective as it means when I am at my club (York & District IBC), I am meeting and engaging with different types of people.
I think more women should play bowls because it’s a safe environment where every one is welcoming and you can choose what level you want to play at as well as play as much or as little as you want. It has a great social side and is not daunting even if like me, you are shy.
DIANE SIGGERY, 48 FROM LEICESTERSHIRE
I loved sport when I was at school. I played netball, tennis and hockey and was in the school team but didn’t take it any further after leaving school.
I got into bowls all thanks to my daughter who was 13 at the time, while taking her all over the country to play for ladies under 25s and under 31s matches. I really enjoyed watching her play and found it a distraction from my stressful job. I initially joined the club that my daughter was part of but it was a distance away so I subsequently joined the one in the village where I live. This was over 10 years ago now.
At first, I played bowls to destress from work but I then seemed to get the bug for it and started playing more and more. Bowls truly is the sport for all, regardless of sex, age or physical ability. It is also a great way to socialise and bring a community together. We now play as a family and all bowl from the same club. Even my grandson who is nearly 3 years old has the bug, bowling anything that is bowlable!
From bowling, I have begun my journey into coaching. I remember when I first started bowling, I didn’t really have any coaching at my old club. The club did have a coach but the coach only coached in the afternoons (which was no good for me as I was at work, as was other working people) so a lot of what I learnt was by watching others and playing in games. So, when I moved clubs a few years later I could see history repeating itself as a lot of clubs are similar - you join, you are shown the basics and then left to your own devices. Plus, it seemed to be that coaching tended to be male dominated as I hadn’t come across one female coach which can be off putting for women, so, I thought, it’s time for change! I enrolled on the Level 1 Coaching Course in 2016 after being advised of the courses by the under 31’s manager of Leicestershire. I then went onto do my Level 2 Coaching Course in 2017 and I am pleased to say I passed both with flying colours. Since then I have put what I have learnt into action in many areas coaching beginners and a mixed triples team who went from bottom of division 2 to top of division 1 within 2 years! I’m incredibly passionate about coaching and have numerous ideas and plans on how to help others to enjoy the sport and be the best they can be.
DI WILSON-ROGERS, OVER 60 FROM LINCOLNSHIRE
I have always enjoyed playing sport. Team sports in particular appealed to me. They taught me and gave me the experience of playing with others and building camaraderie and trust in fellow team members. Skills and experiences that have stood me in good stead for life as well as sport.
I started to play bowls when table tennis became a little too ‘quick’ for me! I am competitive so as soon as I couldn’t play how I wanted to, I decided it was time to give another sport a go. Bowls was my choice and I initially joined an outdoor bowls club. I quickly realised that bowls offered me the competition that I enjoy so much as well as the opportunity to meet people from all walks of life. The club and its members were really welcoming. After an enjoyable outdoor season, I then decided to become a member of my local indoor club so that I could bowl all year round. I took the game seriously and my efforts paid off, with success at national level, and a place in the England team followed. Whilst I am not playing at international level now, I still compete in national competitions and enjoy playing across all levels of the sport.
Over the years, I have undertaken many roles within the clubs that I have belonged to including ladies secretary and ladies competition secretary. I am presently a club committee member and mixed league secretary which basically means I organise the fixtures and programme. I also send in a weekly bowls press report to our local newspaper, the Boston Standard. In addition, over the past four years, I have got heavily involved in selection, and am now a national selector for both indoor and outdoor codes as well as being a county indoor selector for the last seven years. Along with these positions, I am also a qualified coach and like to be active within the club helping both new and existing members to improve their game.
I decided to do all of these roles at various different points of my life so that I could put back into the game of bowls the opportunities the game has given me. It has been a constant in my life for last 35 years. When my first husband became ill, the bowls club was a place that I knew I could take him, safe in the knowledge that club members and friends would be there to talk to him while I played. After his passing, the bowls club became my extended family and it was through bowls that I found love again when I met David. We have now been married for 6 years.
I think that the game of bowls gives women the opportunity to play at club level and to aspire to play at county and international level. It also enables women to become part of an extended family and community. A community that will always be there to support them through both good times and bad.
BERNIE HILL, 52 FROM BOLTON
I have always been interested in sport, as a participant and observer. During my school years, I was actively involved in netball, hockey and tennis. I had a ‘chance encounter’ with bowls in my mid 20s and was instantly hooked! I have played bowls now for 29 years, participating in different ‘codes’, i.e. crown green, indoor, flat green and a brief encounter with short mat. During my time playing crown green I was fortunate enough to play for the inter-town and county teams and had some success in open competitions. Approximately six years ago, I came to a crossroads where I had to make a decision regarding which code to concentrate on….flat won, hands down!
I enjoy all aspects of bowls from the club fun days through to the competitive inter county and national games. I love being outdoors, enjoying the fresh air and exercise that goes with our great sport. Being part of a team and building friendships through the sport is very important to me and I now have friends all over the country. Bowling is also a family activity in our house as I met my husband Alan playing bowls and he now shares my love of the flat green game!
In the six years that I have concentrated on the flat green game, I have had success at club and county level and have qualified for the National Finals at Leamington several times. Last season I was honoured to be County and Club President, two busy roles that I thoroughly enjoyed. In addition to these roles, I have also become involved in umpiring, qualifying as a National Umpire last year and I have been fortunate to officiate at county finals, outdoor National Finals at Leamington and indoor National Finals at Melton Mowbray.
Alongside my officiating role, I have also attained the Level 1 and 2 Bowls Coaching Qualifications and am a Coach Bowls Tutor. Helping new members to start bowling was something that occurred naturally to me building on my professional life as a primary school teacher and my passion for teaching. During the last ten years I have moved into a role as a Regional Manager in a local Music Service, meaning that I do not get the opportunity to teach on a regular basis so coaching bowls has helped me to fill this void.
I thoroughly believe that bowls has something to offer everyone, from the most competitive lady player to the lady who wants a social roll up. We are very fortunate in our club that the vast majority of our competitions are ‘open’ or ‘mixed’, so that ladies are fully integrated. As a club, we also have a good social section which means there is a support network for all members, this has been of particular benefit to some of the lady members in our club who have been recently widowed. In short, bowls provides women with a gently active hobby, health benefits, friendship and opportunities to play at different levels.
SIAN HONNOR, 30 FROM KENT
Sport has been part of my life from a very young age. I played tennis, netball, rounders and golf at school and my sister and I did disco dancing a couple of times a week. Some of my closest friendships to this day have been derived from sport but whereas I have continued bowling many of my friends have dropped out of playing any kind of sport since leaving school.
My grandfather started bowling while he was working and my nan followed once she had retired. I can remember being at the bowls club as a child and being desperate to have a go. We had a set of carpet bowls which we would play with for hours in the garden, rain or shine, setting up tournaments and playing for money. As soon as I was big enough to have a bowl in my hand I started playing, although we had to lie about my age. Luckily, I have always been tall so we got away with it!
Bowls for me, is much more than a sport that I play. It is my escape, my outlet, my hobby and my passion. I have been fortunate enough to travel all over the world doing something that I love and have met some incredible people along the way, many of whom I consider to be dear friends.
I think bowls can offer fun, friendship and competition. From the moment you step foot on the bowls green you can be anything that you want to be. The pile of washing and ironing that's waiting for you when you get home, the meals you need to plan for your family that week, the meeting that you will need to prep for on the train in the morning- none of it matters - it is just you, the bowls and the green.
GAIL HUNTER-GILKES, 55 FROM OXFORDSHIRE
My experience of sport started at school, where I represented my county at netball and hockey. Just after I left school, I took up golf whilst my parents played bowls at the same time.
My whole family play bowls. My grandfather and great uncle played for Scotland but it was not until I was twenty, that whilst watching my parents play bowls, I thought I would have a go. From that moment on I was hooked.
The reason I love the game is that it can be social or competitive and flexible. I worked shifts and found I could practise and play to suit me. I also love that people of all ages and abilities can play together. Just looking at my own family, three generations play. The social side of the sport has meant that I have made wonderful life-long friends, met my husband Steve and have achieved goals I never thought I was capable of. The highlights being playing for England and winning national and British Isles titles.
From playing, I moved into coaching. It all happened because each county was asked to get a team of eight female players who were under 31 team to compete at the National Championships. I was playing in Essex at the time and we did not have a team so I contacted every club and we managed to get a pool of girls willing to try and play. Once I had got the players, I took my coaching exams and then committed to delivering a series of coaching sessions with them as well as managing the team itself at the National Championships. Alongside managing the Essex Junior women’s team, I was then asked to manage the England Women’s Junior International team in 2006. The icing on the cake then came in 2010, when I was asked to be part of the England management team for the Commonwealth Games in Delhi. Since then, I have managed the England women’s team at the 2014 Commonwealth Games and the full England women’s team from 2015. Having coached across all levels, I can honestly say that coaching is incredibly rewarding at all levels. I have been part of some amazing moments at Commonwealth Games, but equally I get pleasure from helping club players improve their game or simply be able to deliver the bowl with more ease. This I believe is because regardless of the level, everyone has dreams and aspirations or just need some help to play to the standard they want to, in order to get maximum enjoyment from the game. Helping others to achieve their dreams is why I love being a coach.
I would encourage more women to get involved in bowls as it is a very social game yet can be competitive if you want it to be. It gives you great enjoyment and fun and also lets you achieve goals that you can be proud of either as a player or as a coach or volunteer.