Say “Lawn bowls” and the image usually conjured up is of a quintessentially British sport reserved exclusively for pensioners. Not anymore. Barefoot bowls is arriving in London, with a bang. On the 28th May 2015 over 150 ‘barefoot bowlers’ will congregate on the iconic Finsbury Square bowling green to participate in a casual lawn bowls tournament. It is being used as a springboard for a wider launch of a new, relaxed format of the notoriously stuffy game.
Childhood friends Will Goy of sports events company Barefoot Sports and Sam Parton of sports and activity marketplace OpenPlay, are launching Barefoot Bowls out of boredom and frustration whilst finding alternative ways to socialise. “We’ve played table tennis, darts, indoor golf and snooker, but felt we needed a relaxed outdoor sport for the forthcoming summer months. There are few sports which can combined with a couple of drinks and lawn bowls is ideal”.
Barefoot bowls isn’t a new concept having launched originally in Australia over 10 years ago. It offers a social, colourful, dressed down and casual format of the sport where the onus is on having fun with friends of all ages. It is steering away from the traditional all white, members only, which typifies the UK’s 5,000 bowling greens.
Will Goy says “There’s actually an important wider message to this. Bowling greens across the country are struggling financially, with over half under threat whist the sports faces a huge challenge to attract younger members. Our goal is to shake off its old fashioned image and show that it is an easy game for all ages to play. Most people have a bowling green local to them, why not have a night away from the pub?”
Will and Sam’s plan is to run three Barefoot Bowls events in London this summer, before expanding elsewhere. They’re using them to refine their model and user experience before offering the concept to other bowling greens. They plan to help with promotion and offer booking tools under a licensing model. Crucial to their forthcoming launch is a partnership with Bowls England alongside craft beer company Purity and Aerobowls for the supply of all equipment.
Sam Parton who is also co-founder of sports marketplace OpenPlay says, “We’re delighted that Bowls England have been so enthusiastic and supportive from the start. With budget cuts to sport and recreation and the need for new housing, the majority of local sports facilities are under threat, bowling greens are a prime example. So Barefoot Bowls is a great way to exemplify how shaking up the format of traditional sports can help get more people active and bring in a new income stream to open spaces.
In the past year the number of people playing sport for at least half an hour a week has decreased by 125,100, particularly as a result of a decline in the number of those swimming regularly. Innovative concepts like Barefoot Bowls will have huge importance in the forthcoming years as the sports industry looks to tackle what is turning out to be a sports participation crisis.