Is lawn bowls about to turn trendy?

A temporary green just off London’s hip and happening Brick Lane had the kids out in force this Sunday

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Sunday afternoon on Brick Lane, and as usual London‘s pop kids are out in force, bobbing up and down the East End thoroughfare in search of vintage clothing, a retro soul side or two, the latest trainers, and maybe even a foil-tray carry-out of spiced meats straight from the tandoor.

For once, though, those (really) in the know have ventured off the beaten track.Just off the lane, for one day only, this fashionable part of London has embraced one of the most unfashionable sports.

In the old car park of a disused brewery, a professional-standard bowling green has been erected – and hundreds of bright young things have turned up to try their hand at lawn green bowling, a pastime normally the preserve not of the super-trendy but the superannuated.

How much longer that will be the case is a moot point. Yesterday’s all-day event – the Vauxhall Motors Bowling Club, the latest in a series of one-off niche sporting affairs run by the car manufacturer, following ice-skating and rollerskating evenings – attracted 400 would-be bowlers, and was vastly oversubscribed with another 3,000 tickets requested. Lawn green bowls would appear to be, quite literally, how the youth of today roll.

That is good news for a sport looking to change its demographic, with clubs across the country suffering from years of declining interest in the sport and – there’s no getting round this – members dying of old age.

“Bowls can be played by the old, but essentially it is a game for the young,” says Eric Pelling, a Middlesex county coach. “All the world champions are between 20 and 40 years old.”

Pelling is currently working on a scheme at his club, Selborne, north London, with local schools, teaching kids of nine and 10 to play indoors on a carpet. The work is bearing fruit already. “We’ve just opened a junior section for the first time,” he says. “Not only that, some of the teachers are joining the club too, having been exposed to bowls for the very first time. It’s a very addictive sport.”

It is that. Pelling and other coaches from Bowls England are on hand at the temporary Brick Lane green to offer tips to the hundreds of beginners queuing patiently for their first attempt at the game, which is not as easy as it looks.

Woods are either sent lamely curling halfway down the track, miles from the jack, or thrown too hard, dispatched with needless velocity into the fences surrounding the green. Nobody seems to mind, though: everyone is enjoying this most laidback of summer pastimes.

“I’m terribly impressed by some of these people’s first efforts,” says Shirley Webster, sipping Pimms underneath a greenside gazebo. Shirley read about the event on the internet and, along with her octogenarian husband Louis, applied for tickets, even though they are both long-standing converts to the cause and members of the Enfield Bowling Club.

“This event sounded a bit weird and strange,” she says, gesturing to the DJ tent pumping out the latest sounds of Brick Lane courtesy of Gavin and Stacey star Mathew Horne, “but it also sounded like fun. And it is. It’s a lovely game, bowls, a very social game. I hope this event brings a lot of new members to our clubs.”

The entertainments are MCd by the T4 presenter Rick Edwards, who heroically maintains his energy and enthusiasm despite suffering the early blow of losing a Homeric 11-end battle on the very last delivery. “Me and my mates used to go on holidays to Center Parcs, and play absolutely every single one of the sports available,” he recalls. “Bowls was one. We loved it – it’s really good. The old boys who play it a lot, their accuracy is unbelievable.”

But when the music stops and the turf is rolled back up – 98% of it to be reused again, lawn green bowling, as the name suggests, being nothing if not environmentally sound – will events such as this be enough to get the younger generation firing woods down lanes across the land?

“Bowls probably does need a new big name,” admits Pelling. “Lots of people can still only name David Bryant and his pipe. And the old age of the crowds at the televised championships doesn’t help – one of the tournaments is sponsored by Co-operative Funerals, for goodness sake! But if you watch the under-25s at Worthing, there’s always more of an atmosphere there, plenty of cheering and shouting, a few high fives. A big star will come along soon.”

Edwards too stops just short of predicting a genuine shift in opinion just yet. “You wonder if its reputation will scupper the youth getting into it, which is a shame, because if people played it, they’d like it,” he says of the sport’s image problem, before adding instructively: “I hope I’m playing it, day in day out, when I’m 60.”

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