History of Kempston Park Bowls Club
In the 1980's it became obvious that the combined population of Bedford and Kempston Town had far outgrown the sports facilities available in the Bedford area. There was a need for sporting venues for all age groups. Outdoor Bowls was popular but in winter it was not an option; there was a need for Indoor Bowls.
So the Fletcher family, consisting of Laurie (father), Jean (mother), and their two sons Michael and Paul, decided they would look into the prospect of investing their money in an Indoor Bowls Club for the benefit of local people. They approached the Sports Council with their idea; this was the start of long and complicated negotiations. A member of the Sports Council at that time was Keith Thorne who endorsed the idea of Indoor Bowls. He was an advocate of Bowls, Indoor and Outdoor and had been bowling since 1952.
The initial plans to build a comprehensive sports venue in a Mid-Bedfordshire town, including a swimming pool and an 8 Rink Indoor National Bowls Stadium and hosted by Sport for Bedfordshire were opposed by the existing outdoor Bowls Club as not an appropriate site.
An alternative site in Kempston was eventually agreed upon by the Fletcher Family, the Sports Council, Bedford Borough Council and Kempston Council. The chosen site where the Indoor Bowls Club would be built was ideally located; high enough to avoid risk of flooding from the river, adjacent to Kempston Park, easily accessible from the main Bedford Road with, more than adequate car/coach parking, but far enough from the houses not to be invasive.
They identified the site, and approached the BBC, and negotiated the ground lease agreeing to provide an entrance from Hillgrounds Road which was sufficient for not only the Bowls Venue but also for any future plans the local authorities had made for the adjacent site. A public swimming pool was later build there.
So in 1988 the Fletcher family were able to proceed; after research and visits to other Bowls Clubs they were instrumental in the design of the building, and they also oversaw the construction. The EIBA was also involved; Keith Thorne was on the executive and was significantly involved with the progress of the club. The contractors the Fletchers selected to build the club were George Houghton, from Hull.
In 1989 the construction of the International Standard 8 Rink Indoor Bowls Stadium was completed in Hillgrounds Road, Kempston. The name of the new club was Lawson Park Indoor Bowls Club. Lawson is a family name of the Fletcher Family; the location was close to Kempston Park, hence the club name.
Twenty five years ago on March 24th (Good Friday) 1989 Lawson Park Indoor Bowls Club opened its doors to the public. A special match had been arranged between a newly formed team from Lawson Park Indoor Bowls Team and a team brought to Kempston for the occasion by George Firmin of Crystal Palace Indoor Bowls Club. The spectators enjoyed the match and were encouraged to enrol as members, or have an experimental roll up on the superb new green; then finish off the experience with a drink from the equally superb new bar.
In October 1989 the official opening of the new Lawson Park Indoor Bowls Club took place and was hosted by the long established Cutler-Hammer Outdoor Bowls Club. An unusual Indoor Bowls match took place as a formal opening event; Mavis Steele, President of the Women's Indoor Bowling Association and Tom Blake, President of the Men's Indoor Bowling Association each brought along their teams. It was unheard of for four rinks of men to play a match, and have four rinks of ladies play a match on the same green at the same time; however, it was a sight which was very enjoyable for the spectators seeing all eight rinks being used at the same time. As it was not the custom, and generally not accepted for men and ladies to bowl at the same time so a milestone was made in Bowls history, and a grand opening for Lawson Park Indoor Bowls Club. During the first year the Club attracted 1,200 members; 800 were actively bowling and the remainder were Social Members.
The facilities at Kempston were of such a high standard that many bowls competitions were to take place over the years, and graced by many renowned bowlers, the Denny Cup and Denny Plate competitions have been played here along with many other prestigious events. The Short Mat Bowlers have brought their mats to this venue to hold their International Competitions.
Lawson Park Club continued to thrive over the following years, and the membership enjoyed a very active social atmosphere. The Lawson's' hired a chef from Dunstable Golf Club and so the members were able to enjoy good meals from lunchtime through to nine o'clock at night.
The sad loss of Paul Fletcher to illness in 2002 was a blow to the family; and by 2002 a gradual decline in membership prompted the Fletcher family to think about selling Lawson Park.
On November 13th 2006 Lawson Park Bowls Club was sold. The club was given the new name of Kempston Indoor Bowls Club, and the new owner had hopes of revitalising the failing club with new ideas. All was to no avail and unfortunately over the following seven years the membership of the club declined to such an extent that the Club was not viable. The owner hoped the club, still a superb venue, would be sold, however, even though advertised extensively, no new buyer was found. The venue was at risk of mouldering into decline behind pad-locked doors, all seemed lost until a group of Bowlers, determined not to let such a great venue slide into obscurity, started negotiations with the lease holders. Under guidance from the council they were able to get the backing of the bowlers, past and present, to try to breathe life into the Bowls Club once again.
In October 2013 a meeting was held, over three hundred people attended and the overwhelming decision was that the Bowlers would buy the club themselves by means of purchasing shares. The club was renamed yet again and is now known as KEMPSTON PARK INDOOR BOWLS CLUB. It is a tribute to their personal belief in the club that Michael Fletcher, Keith Thorne and many others who have been bowling here for the past twenty five years are joining in the revitalisation of the club.
We currently employ a bar steward, a chef and four part time employee who assist in the bar, kitchen and cleaning areas of the club. Our bowls green maintenance and outdoor groundwork is carried out by volunteers.
We have an active management team who together make executive decisions relating to the running of the bowls club, along with a bowls committee who manage the bowls side of the club. After restructuring the club we have recently gained CASC status, with our shareholders now being debenture holders.
Having now completed three years of being a members club, Kempston Park's membership is continuing to grow positively and we look forward to this wonderful venue coming into its own once again and being used for all kinds of social and bowls events. The people of Kempston have a real jewel in its midst and they are more than welcome to come by and see for themselves.