How to run a business in lockdown: Whitefield’s 138 year-old bowling club

How to run a business in lockdown is our series about how small business owners are leading their companies through the coronavirus crisis. To share your story, message us: hello@tide.coFacebook or Twitter.

Nearly 800 Tide members run sports clubs or businesses, and hundreds more run other recreation activity businesses, either self-employed or running a company. Many found their work paralysed in March 2020 when, to slow down the spread of coronavirus, the Government ordered clubs, gyms and leisure facilities to close and gatherings to be cancelled.

Tide member David Bevan is the Company Secretary/Director and one of three Trustees of Whitefield Bowling Club, near Bury in Greater Manchester.

The crown green bowling club, founded in 1882, has survived two World Wars and in recent years, bombardments from developers keen to buy the prime land the Club occupies.

We asked David how the coronavirus outbreak is affecting the Club’s finances, members and prospects for the future.

Whitefield Bowling Club

Meet David and the Club, Tide’s oldest member

David Bevan has been a member of the Whitefield Bowling Club since 1984 and serving as Company Secretary since 2004.

“I first joined to play football for a team run by the Club. Then I started playing bowls in competitions for novices… and caught the bug!”

For 50 years, the limited company had their business bank account with a high street bank. Disappointed with branch closures and charges for every service, David moved the account to Tide.

“I looked around for an account where we could save money and that was totally accessible. I came up with Tide. I like the instant information, and the customer service is excellent.”

Whitefield Bowling Club near Bury in Greater Manchester became a limited company in 1891 when the community bought the land they were renting to play crown green bowls. The limited company was a secure way to manage the loan taken out to buy the land.

Veteran Club member Tony Walton, in a photo from the Whitefield Bowling Club's archive
Veteran member Tony Walton,
(photo from the Club’s archive)

While the Club’s premises are open to everyone to enjoy the surroundings, anyone using the bowling green or bar must be a member. Currently the Club has 255 members, aged 40 to 75.

As a non-for-profit organisation, the Club is constantly giving back to their community through grants, donations to the local hospice and homeless charities, and providing rent-free allotments.

“We also give free memberships in winter to our veterans so they can use the clubhouse to play cards, snooker and dominoes but more importantly so they can get together.”

We were fascinated to know more about the Club, Tide’s oldest member, and how they were doing during the coronavirus lockdown.

How is the Club affected by the lockdown?

As the UK Government ordered venues to close, the Club had to cancel competitions and events, and close the ground to members and the public.

Bar revenue immediately dropped to nil, whereas normally teams would play every day during the summer season, creating plenty of demand at the bar. Private celebrations were cancelled and the bar wasted £640 of stock ordered in for a charity event.

The bar at Whitefield Bowling Club
The bar at Whitefield Bowling Club

“Closing the club was a double hit because membership payments were due in March. With around 255 members paying £10/£15 a year, this brings in around £2,600. We depend on this to pay bills for the previous winter, and for machinery, fertiliser and the usual bills.”

The Club has no employees and runs on the goodwill of members and local people. The staff are all volunteers, including groundsmen who look after the clubhouse, green and surroundings, and the bar servers.

The total loss of income for the Club means repairs and replacements are on hold. The historic clubhouse is 120 years old and requires constant care and maintenance. Repairs to the roof, estimated to cost £1,500, have had to go on hold. And by not repairing it, the clubhouse could suffer more damage.

Recently one of the Club’s two mowers gave up after an impressive 44 years of service and replacing it will cost £7,300. Even with an interest-free payment plan, that now can’t happen this year.

To cover arrears for the winter gas supply, the Club has increased monthly payments and is trying to negotiate a discount with British Gas. Other suppliers – even a web design company who’ve built a new website for the Club – haven’t yet insisted on collecting payments.

“At the moment, it seems that businesses have more to worry about than pressuring their smaller accounts. All our standing orders are due but we have no income. Without grants or support, the Club is vulnerable.”

What coronavirus support will the Club get from the Government?

The Club should be eligible for the Small Business Grant, available from their local council, and have applied for a grant from Sport England.

Can you continuity plan for a pandemic?

The Club has a long history of adapting well to adversity. From the start, the ethos of the Club has always been to serve and give back to the local community. In World War I, the Club became a recreation centre for convalescing troops, then in World War II, the Club converted the green into allotments. Any spare cash goes to the community in grants, most recently to a young family who lost their father in a car accident in 2019.

But this charitable ethos has left the Club vulnerable.

“In some ways, we’re a victim of our own agenda. As non-profit, we return all our annual surplus and we have no cash reserves. As directors, we’ve been rather naive – as a limited company, we should have carried out risk and continuity planning.”

Whitefield Bowling Club, shown on Google Earth satellite map
Google Maps satellite image showing the Club
as a square of open land, attractive to developers

David admits that in the past, when faced with financial problems, the Club’s directors have put in their own personal money – and he expects this might have to happen again.

The land occupied by the Club isn’t far from Manchester city centre and is very popular with developers. The Club directors regularly field requests to buy the land, which could be worth around £2 million.

For an organisation rooted in serving the community, selling the land to developers will never be an option.

How has the Club adapted to operate in lockdown?

David is used to working from home, having worked as a consultant after retiring as a director in the social sector in 2017. In lockdown, managing the Club doesn’t stop:

“This week, I’ve been fielding calls about whether the Club’s land has been sold to build apartments. As Trump would say, it’s fake news.”

The Club has a well-established network, where members feel more like friends. Along with senior members of the club, David has been telephoning members who they consider to be vulnerable or who might appreciate a chat.

“The wellbeing of our friends and members is a huge worry for us because 80% of them are within the group labelled as ‘vulnerable’. We have members who struggle with being lonely, who have mental health issues and see the Club as a home. We exist for our community and we’re devastated that we can’t provide the support people need at the moment.”

As well as emotional support, David and the team offer practical help where they can:

“We heard that one of our allotment users is in hospital with the virus and on a ventilator, so we’re keeping on top of his crops and plantings, and hoping for his full recovery.”

The confinement has highlighted the need to use technology to bring the community together remotely. David says,

“We’re aware we need to collect email addresses to communicate with members, and we plan to offer training events to demonstrate new tech. If and when we get straight, we’d like to buy some cheap tablets to help members stay in touch.”

Whitefield Bowling Club's team, winners of the Prestwich and Whitefield First Division, 2019
Whitefield Bowling Club’s team, winners of the Prestwich and Whitefield First Division, 2019

What are the Club’s plans for re-opening?

The clubhouse and ground are currently closed, to avoid the risk of people socialising during the coronavirus confinement. The groundsmen continue maintaining the green and David or one of team inspects the property every day, as required by their insurer.

The Club are concerned that re-stocking the bar might be tricky because they’re not tied to a brewery but other than that, the Club is ready to re-open as soon as the Government lifts the restrictions.

David and the Club’s team hope members and local people come back to support the Club which in turn, will continue its role of supporting the community.

Whitefield Bowling Club, with church in the background
The bowling green, with All Saints
Church across the road

“Many businesses, venues, clubs and community projects might not survive this crisis. We’re also concerned that even when we can re-open, people might not want to mix socially and risk infection. There will be long-term effects of isolation on mental health, domestic abuse and social structure.”

Seeing how medical and support staff are working during the coronavirus outbreak has strengthened David’s resolve in his own work for the Club and community.

“I’ve had my faith in human kindness and dedication refreshed by witnessing people delivering front line services. They’re working with the very real probability they might catch this virus and die. We need to reflect on this service long after this passes and make sure we show them the same support and dedication.”

Tide is proud to provide our services to Whitefield Bowling Club and, like David and the team, we hope the Club emerges from coronavirus crisis and can continue to support their community.

To offer support to the Club, to enquire about hiring the green or clubhouse, or to get in touch with the Directors, visit the Whitefield Bowling Club website.
Photos courtesy of Whitefield Bowling Club and Google Maps

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Suzanne Worthington

Suzanne Worthington

Senior Writer

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