Disability Bowls was formed as part of the Stoke Mandeville Games which later became part of the Paralympics from 1960 – 1996. Disability Bowls England (DBE) was launched in 2004 as the coordinating body for bowlers of all ages and abilities with a physical, sensory or learning (Intellectual) disabilities and was established as a Charity in August 2015.
The work of DBE differs from other national bowls bodies as it is the only organisation with the specific aim of delivering multi disability bowls events which includes introductory sessions and introductory competitions, individual coaching and competitive opportunities at local, national and international levels.
In 2014, through partnership work and discussion with mainstream and impairment specific bowls organisations, it was agreed there was a need for a formal bowls structure/organisation to be developed to address the void in opportunities for disabled players.
Since 2015 the organisation has delivered nationwide activities to cater for different ability levels: introductory days; coaching sessions; regional and national competitions. Pilot work has been undertaken, introduction sessions have been run and the organisation is supporting a growing membership and introducing them to clubs. New initiatives during 2015/16 included regional training/taster sessions; first outdoor national pairs competition; three home country test matches, match against Bowls England Club of the Year, match against Bowls England President, first outdoor inter-regional challenges, squad selection and training weekends, friendly club matches. These new competitions complemented a busy programme of training, coaching and competition run at regional levels. Consultation with service users in Open Forums have provided insight into the developments and direction the organisation needs to consider and high on the priorities is providing opportunities for reduced travel and bringing more playing opportunities within accessible geographical reach, reducing travel time and costs is critical to regular involvement. New initiatives and maiden competitions are being introduced to support first time involvement in competition.
During 2017 the emphasis will be to form a local/regional network and strengthen local links with the appointment of volunteers to various roles. It is anticipated that targeted work will encourage newcomers from the region to join the organisation and clubs will be encouraged to make provisions for regular recreational disability specific group sessions to take place offering improved opportunities for participation. Each individual will be encouraged to set their own realistic goals and supported to achieve these targets (for some it may be weekly recreational participation, others may benefit from voluntary led coaching support, and there will be opportunities for progression through the sport to play in friendly matches, Inter-Regional competitions and selection to national and international levels).
In 2017/19 we introduced our High-performance squads, which gave our members the opportunity to represent their country at the highest level of competition. A high-performance coaching and management structure were put in place with great success and allowed us to send the best prepared Para Bowls Squad to join Team England at the Commonwealth Games Gold Coast, Australia in 2018 and have just started the process for Birmingham 2022. We have also prepared and entered a team of 24 in the International Bowls for Disabled (IBD) World Championships Christchurch, New Zealand in Nov 2020 (now postponed to 2021).
In 2018 we were invited to move our annual North v South DBE Challenge Trophy to the opening Saturday of the Bowls England Nationals Finals Championships at Royal Leamington Spa to showcase our organisation to a much wider bowls audience. This helped raise awareness of the ease in which players with disability can be involved within clubs substantiated by the 9 DBE members who reached the Bowls England National 2019 Finals in their own right or with their fellow club members.
In 2021 we have been invited to host our Singles and Pairs Finals along with North v South Challenge Trophy during the Bowls England National Championships and have introduced a new Learning (Intellectual) Disabilities Bowls Challenge shield in April, to encourage more LD’s members to entry to give them a pathway from social bowls to the International series and hopefully the Special Olympics.
The organisation encourages membership from novice and established players of all levels of ability and age. DBE has 465 registered members and 105 Members clubs, which comprises bowlers with a range of impairments each with their own individual challenges to overcome to allow their involvement in the sport. The promotion and demonstration of adapted bowling aids is allowing individuals with a range of complex physical and sensory challenges to engage and re-engage in bowling activities. Practical demonstrations of specialist equipment and enlisting the services of facilitators has aided novice and established bowlers’ participation and offered solutions to a range of participation challenges: (signage and directors – visually and hearing-impaired bowlers; utilising bowling aids: specially designed bowls wheelchairs; bowling arms to propel woods).
The organisation will work with communities (bowls clubs and volunteers), and particularly those who have supported the running of events and activities to encourage their ongoing and future engagement.
Local volunteers will be recruited to fulfil many roles. Volunteering roles include regional co-ordinators, coaches, umpires and officials, classifiers, support staff, wood gatherers, directors for visually impaired bowlers, signage for hearing impaired bowlers, wheelchair pushers and administrators.
Friendships are formed and the support network and programmes facilitate the improvement of an individual’s skills, self-worth, confidence and shows a reduction of isolation for participants, supporters and volunteers. Disabled bowlers find enjoyment playing alongside and in competition against other players with impairments who experience similar daily life challenges to their own.
DBE is using several strands of marketing to raise the profile of the organisation.
The website www.disabilitybowlsengland.org.uk publicises all activities (taster days, competitions, training days) and provides information on technical matters (eg specialist equipment and classification).
DBE works collaboratively with mainstream bowls organisations and clubs, local authorities and other like-minded disability sport and health organisations.