‘Proactive thinking’ with U3A partnership changes Donvale’s fortunes

by Lachlan Williams

With some outside of the box and proactive thinking, a club in Melbourne’s east has gone from struggling 15 years ago, to flourishing with a strong and engaged membership base today.

Donvale Bowls Club has a story of resilience after some troubling times in the mid-2000s.

With club numbers waning, people at the club began thinking of new ways to introduce community members to both bowls as a sport as well as their club.

Barry Wilkins is a former committee chairman at Donvale. He said it was after he retired in 2003 and joined The University of the Third Age – more commonly known as U3A – that he saw an opportunity for the club.

“I was chairman in 2004 and we were looking a little shaky. We started casting around to see what we could do to make the club survive,” he said.

“Graham Howard and I got together and tried to work out how to get more people to the club. Since I joined U3A I realised how big it actually was and saw that as a way we could get people to the club.”

Mr Wilkins helped organise the ‘Lawn Bowls for Beginners’ program at U3A, which has taken off since its inception in 2005.

“We wanted people who’d never bowled before. People had the chance to participate in the program for a year, and then after that decide if they wanted to continue bowls with a club,” he said.

“People at U3A are generally retirees with plenty of energy.

“We saw a great conversion of people who really enjoyed the program and did decide they wanted to keep playing.”

If you're at The Pines, pop into the community center next door and have a look at our U3A display in the display cabinet.

Posted by Donvale Bowls Club on Thursday, 11 February 2016

Since 2005, the program has brought in “about 70-80 people” to Donvale, transforming their fortune.

Mr Wilkins said there have been an array of success stories since launching the program.

“People who join in this way already know something about bowls and many have decided to take on positions of responsibility. The first person who signed up in 2005 has been club treasure for last 12 years and is a coach too,” he said.

“It has worked very well and our club is in a good spot now because of it.”

The new members transition into the club through Twilight and other social competitions, fostering their love for the game as well as settling into the fabric of the club.

Bowls Australia (BA) Regional Bowls Manager Paul Holtschke said Donvale’s story is one clubs should use as inspiration for the benefits of thinking differently.

“Clubs can grow their membership if they look outside the square, be proactive and look for new partner organisations like U3A who have access to large data base of people we can’t normally access,” he said.

Contribution by Paul Hotlschke – Regional Bowls Manager (Metropolitan Melbourne/Geelong)

Find your local RBM: bowls.com.au/rbms