Bowls Lancashire: behind the scenes at the organisation tasked with keeping a historic sport alive across the North West

Eight-year-old Jason Parkinson is visiting his grandparents in Blackpool. In his words, he’s ‘bored out his skull’, ambling round the back of their home and towards the nearby bowling green. A few jacks happen to roll his way and the players ask him to lob them back. So he does just that.

By Jack Marshall
Thursday, 19th May 2022, 4:55 am

Some 36 years on, Jason is still playing flat green bowls to this day. He has represented England, he has been involved with the Bowls Lancashire association for three decades, and he is now Director of the World Bowls Tour. All one can say is thank goodness Jason’s grandparents didn’t have Cluedo.

“I started playing when I was about eight and I seemed to have a natural talent for it,” says Jason on how he first got into bowls. “As a kid, you’re competitive, so I did well and got hooked. At 14, I got picked for England juniors and it just spiralled.

“By 16, I was the top national under-25s player, which was unheard of,” adds Jason, who is from Blackpool. “Even back then, though, it was seen as an old man’s sport. I got to the final of a competition at about 12 and they banned me and told me I should be playing football instead.

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Anthony Booth-Young with former Bowls Lancs president John Benvie

“This little old guy said ‘let him play and I’ll put all my life savings on this kid to win!’ Bizarre.”

Running and overseeing the sport of flat green bowling across Lancashire, Greater Manchester, and Merseyside, Bowls Lancashire was originally formed in 1951 and has catered for players of all levels ever since then,

With a total of 18 clubs having been affiliated to Bowls Lancashire over the last 70 years, the association’s first club was Heaton Hall, itself founded in 1926 and based out of Heaton Park in Manchester, followed by the second club, which was Stanley Park in Blackpool.

In fact, the North West has a rich history in the sport: Bowls Lancashire’s first success came in 1958 when the Blackpool trio of C. Garside, W. Malin, and J. Cragg won the National Triples, while their first international came in the form of then-Bolton player David Holt in 1989.

Jason Parkinson and Emily Ferguson commentating on Bowls England National finals

Now the likes of Jason are charged with keeping that heritage alive.

“I got involved with Bowls Lancashire because, at some point, you have to take over and help with the running of things,” says Jason. “Bowls isn’t a professional sport, it’s all voluntary, so it’s all about how we can breathe life back into the sport, which is hard.

“There’s also a stigma around bowls being for older people, which makes it hard to sell,” he adds. “We’ve also lost a lot of clubs: when I started playing, we had seven indoor bowls clubs and they’ve all gone. It’s crackers.”

“We do still have three flat green clubs in Bolton, Manchester, and Southport and we’re all friendly,” continues Jason. “We’re all doing free taster sessions so feel free to come down and have a go if you’re interested.”

Robert Stirling, Anthony Booth-Young, and John Benvie
Jack Lockhart and John Benvie
Lancs' u25s Team