Bowls players fear their club may close down because they won’t be able to afford to stay where they are.
The future of Rickmansworth Bowls Club is up in the air after Three Rivers District Council told the historic club it was not willing to subsidise them anymore.
Club secretary Nick Bessant believes if an agreement cannot be reached with the council, it will not be able to survive.
The 117-year-old club, which plays in Northway, has been paying £4,500 per year in rent to the council, with the council taking responsibility for other costs like maintenance to both the green and clubhouse.
But earlier this year, the club were told the agreement had come to an end and members would have to pay £20,000 a year to stay – a price Mr Bessant says is “completely out of the question”.
Another option on the table is to pay rent of £1,000 a year but the bowls club would pay for the entire upkeep of the clubhouse and pay to maintain the green.
Rickmansworth Bowls Club. Credit: Holly Cant
Mr Bessant says the club, which currently has around 45 members, is “very willing” to take on the green but the cost of running the clubhouse is a “worry”.
The secretary says it has proven to be “impossible” for the club to obtain an accurate estimate from the council of the cost of running the clubhouse.
The club, which shares the facilities with the Royal British Legion, is also concerned the clubhouse may be in need of immediate repairs – and they may be forced to agree to a lease that becomes unaffordable, resulting in the gradual demise of the club.
Mr Bessant said: “It’s been very stressful from the club’s point of view. We were told from the outset that subsidisation had to stop. But we think the council should subsidize to a lesser extent. We also can’t agree to a lease without knowing all of the costs.
“The club would therefore like the council to offer a third option. This would be a lease for the green whereby the club maintains the playing surface for a relatively small rent, and a licence for the clubhouse whereby the club pays a rent nearer the previous amount and the council pays for the upkeep of the clubhouse, including any future repairs.
“This option would give the bowls club some security as it would know exactly how much it needs to pay each year.”
This option has been dismissed by the council – Mr Bessant has urged officers to reconsider.
Members pictured playing in 2019
The bowls club are being supported by Rickmansworth councillor Paula Hiscocks and members have also created a petition.
Cllr Hiscocks said: “The council have to do their due diligence but on the other hand, this type of activity is perfect during Covid – it is outdoor and socially distanced, and helps the older population.
“It seems like such a strange time for the council to do this when we should be encouraging this activity. I’ve not had accurate bills for services.”
The clubhouse at the bowls club
Three Rivers District Council issued a statement which claimed Rickmansworth Bowls Club has chosen an option to take on the running of the the with the associated costs – Mr Bessant has denied the club has agreed any new deal yet with the council.
The council has also said it has offered the club use of a number of pieces of grounds maintenance equipment and a transitional grant for the first two years as an assistance package to help adjust to the new lease arrangements.
The statement added council costs in keeping both Rickmansworth Bowls Club and Mill End Bowls Club has “increased considerably” over the years, with costs now “considerably exceeding” rental income.
Cllr Matthew Bedford, lead member for resources at the council, said: “The council is keen to work with the club to find a way forwards that enables them to continue to operate and provide benefits to the local community while at the same time making sure the cost to taxpayers is affordable and more open and transparent.”