This might be viewed as a story of the right person coming along at the right time, or the story could be viewed as that of a club embracing someone with fresh ideas in such a way that changed the clubs culture, increased their membership and made the club sustainable well into the future.
Des Campbell was employed by the Tongala Bowls Club in country Victoria as a part-time greens-keeper and having never seen the sport before, he had no intentions of getting involved in a sport he knew little about.
However that attitude quickly changed when he met the Tongala members who had so much pride for their club, a second home for many of them, and it wasn’t long before Des Campbell found himself at the club on a Saturday watching his new found mates competing in pennants.
Campbell quickly realized that the survival of the club was dependent upon increasing their membership and at that point Tongala was struggling to field three pennant sides.
Des Campbell felt he knew a lot of people in the community who were in a similar boat to him; people who had been top athletes, who had finished following their children around the football, cricket and netball scenes and were now looking to do something for themselves or as a family.
“I knew the people I had in mind would be concerned about making a fool of themselves in a sport they weren’t quite sure about, but I also knew if they gave it a go, in the right environment, they would thoroughly enjoy themselves,” said Des Campbell.
“I thought if I could gather a group of first time bowlers and we could all play together in a lower division for pennant on a Saturday no one would feel uncomfortable.”
The idea of new bowlers competing in pennants was unique and originally met with some resistance; however the concept went ahead with great success.
Obviously results were not great in the first year of pennant, but the enthusiasm of the new bowlers to learn and have a great time, not to mention the understanding of the opposing teams has led to 35 new bowling members in 12 months.
Each new member who played in the first season were retained, more new bowlers were attracted to the club and some of those payers have now progressed to higher divisions.
Tongala has become a very family orientated club; they have new junior members who are representing the club in pennants this year.
Tongala realized they needed to offer these new members more opportunities to play so they created the Thursday night social event, perfect for those who are still working or at school.
Tongala also created division two and three Club Championships and showed great initiative by making the championships fee’s inclusive of their club membership; another incentive for new members to join the club.
Regional Bowls Manager Josh Thornton first met Club Secretary Pat McMeekan when Tongala had eight registered female bowling members.
“It has been an amazing journey for Tongala to have such a rapid increase in membership, there’s been a great amount of work done behind the scenes,” said RBM Josh Thornton.
“To see Tongala now running a Ladies Club Singles and Mixed Pairs Championships, to have 20 female bowling members, juniors and five pennant sides is a credit to the culture this club has created.
“Secretary Pat said to me that finding that right person in your community is a big factor in any club gaining new members and Des Campbell has certainly worked wonders for Tongala by simply encouraging people in the community to try bowls.”
Could you recruit new members to your club; how many people in your community have you invited to try bowls?
It seems so simple, but this story proves that word and mouth may well be the best form of advertising and if you don’t ask, you’ll never know!