The secret to long life has been discovered in Spalding and it has less to do with diet and more to do with friendship!
Spalding & District Indoor Bowls Club, which meets at the Castle Sports Complex in the town, has members in their 80s and 90s who know exactly what it is that’s keeping them going – bowling, mixing with other people of all ages and joining in some of the club’s friendly social activities.
For instance, 95-year-old Jean Cowles, of Parkside Crescent, Spalding – who went into the Guinness Book of Records from September as the oldest female player – got her first passport aged 87 so that she could join in a social club trip to Norway.
“It’s kept me going,” said Jean. “It makes life worth living in a lot of ways. If I am feeling a little bit down or in the dumps I come here and it’s a fantastic place for friendship, fun and good exercise. I am still bowling, though not as good as I was. I have to have a stick to hold me up now.”
Jean began playing when she retired at 60 and was looking for something to do, and so has played an astonishing 35 years, slightly longer than fellow member Jamie Digby (94), of Woolram Wygate, Spalding. Jamie and her late husband Norman decided to get more active when they retired in the late 1970s from the little grocery shop they ran on ‘Pennygate Corner’, A Digby & Son. For the last few years she was playing, Jamie bowled with the Fifty Plus Club, run by Graham Dark, which has about 750 members. Jamie admits: “Now I just come down to aggravate them. They call me trouble here.”
Beryl Garrett says she doesn’t think her husband Alan (80) would be here if not for bowling. Following strokes some years ago, Alan, who lives in Sutterton, was left unable to do much more than sit and watch television until a friend invited him to come and watch him bowling.
His visit coincided with a ten-week taster course and Alan looked at the length of the green and decided he could probably walk it and so said he would give it a go. That was in 2005 and he is now playing in two leagues, the Fifty Plus and the Contenders, and says: “The social life is excellent. It’s improved my health and my co-ordination.”
Bowling is also good for the young – ten-year-old Aaron Barnes of West Pinchbeck is one of 20 members of the Junior Section – as well as people with disabilities. The club has bought special wheelchairs for use on the green and, in the last year, installed a ramp.
The first user was 54-year-old David Smith, of West Pinchbeck, who has been playing for 20 years since he was advised to give up shooting cross bow. He has been a wheelchair bowler for England in the Home International for three years, and says: “This is one sport anybody that is disabled can play against able-bodied competitors on the same level.”
Roger Perkins, chairman of the club, says the green is in use all week, usually until 9pm at night and, if there are competitions going on, as late as 10.30pm.
He said: “We have nearly 600 members, all of them active members, and everybody is there for everybody else. We all look after each other. We run our own social club and we do games nights and go to greyhound racing. Any doctor will tell you how good it is, the exercising and the socialising.”
Various teams meet at the bowls club, such as the Fifty Plus Club, Spalding Probus Club, the University of the Third Age, and teams from Springfields and Spalding.
However, Roger is keen to dispel any misconceptions about bowls being for the elderly. He said: “The Spalding Indoor Bowls Club boasts one of the highest number of international bowlers in the country with virtually all bowlers being under the age of 40. There are three ladies and four men playing for England with more trials imminent. The under-18s and the under-25s squads are winners of many well-deserved titles, thereby dispelling the myth of bowls being an old man’s sport.
“What is on offer at the Castle bowls is companionship, exercise, good food and the chance to excel and boost your self-esteem, all in a safe, clean environment.”
Bowls co-ordinator Derek Sands says there are lessons to suit all needs and all age groups are welcome. Contact the Castle Sports Complex reception or phone 01775 762178.