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  • Club celebrates 50-year anniversary
  • Idylic setting, tucked away behind bingo hall
  • Representatives from Bowls England visit to mark the occasion
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ELISE BREWERTON meets members of a bowls club celebrating a milestone 50-year anniversary.

As a typical boy, Paul Hatherley loved a kickabout in the park with his mates.

But, rather unusually for a then 11-year-old, he was also a devoted bowls player.

Paul caught the bug for the sport – which is seen as somewhat of a pastime for retirees – and, at more than 44 years he is the longest-serving member of Leigh Park Bowls Club.

Tucked away behind a 1960s concrete shopping precinct and just in front of Crown Bingo, on a summer’s evening there is nothing like the clicking of woods and clinking of gin and tonics as the birds sing in the trees that line the green.

The club is a tranquil oasis in the middle of the Leigh Park estate

New recruit Nathan Hanley. ''Pictures: Sarah Standing (150868-8404)

New recruit Nathan Hanley. ''Pictures: Sarah Standing (150868-8404)

And this year is the club’s 50th anniversary.

There are celebrations going on throughout the year, including a visit from Bowls England, the governing body, last week.

Paul, who lives just behind the club, says he is still as devoted to the game now as he was as a boy.

The 55-year-old postman said: ‘I took to it like a duck to water.

Roy Collins

Roy Collins

‘But my mates did take the mickey out of me. They’d say, “that’s an old man’s game”.

‘There were times I couldn’t go out with them because I was bowling.

‘In fact, the council tried to force the club not to let me play, saying I was too young.

‘But they relented when they were informed legendary player David Bryant started at nine. He’s world champion now.

Paul Hatherley

Paul Hatherley

‘I still love the game. I play as often as I can. I’m in the A team.

‘I love the competition. Everybody’s up for a good game. There’s handshakes and high fives.

‘And chasing after the bowls keeps me fit.

‘But it’s not just the playing that I love. It’s the social side.

‘We have hog roasts, barbecues and drinks in the bar after the game.

‘We’re in wonderful surroundings. It’s a great club.’

Jan Sansom, left, with Patricia Read

Jan Sansom, left, with Patricia Read

Lewis Voysey, 26, Nathan Hanley, 28, and Tom Lumsden, 33, are the newest, and among the youngest, members of the club.

The went along to an open day last year and loved it so much they signed up.

They can regularly be found playing roll-ups (the bowls equivalent of a kick-about) on the green.

Lewis said: ‘It started off as a bit of a laugh.

‘We thought it was a bit of an old man’s sport but we really enjoyed it.

‘We’re down here most weekends now.

‘It’s quite competitive. I didn’t think it would be but it is.

‘It’s cracking fun. All three of us joined together so it’s good to spend some time together.’

Patricia Read, 73, joined the club four years ago, much to the surprise of her family.

Her husband Dennis, a retired marine, took her along with him and she quickly immersed herself in club life.

The glamorous great-grandmother, from Leigh Park, said: ‘My girls couldn’t believe it at first. I’m normally more of a dancing and jiggy person.

‘I’m not sporty at all.

‘But you don’t have to be fit or athletic. And learning how to play is really fun.

‘In fact, I get very annoyed if I don’t win!’

Club president Steve Prior explained that since the members took over the running of the club from Havant Borough Council they are now generating income from sponsorship and advertising.

All the members pitch in to do the gardening, the catering and look after the clubhouse.

He added: ‘Fifty years is a big milestone for us.

‘The visit from Bowls England was the cherry on the cake.

‘It was a real honour and privilege to have them here.’

The club fielded an elite team against some of the best players in the country who represent Bowls England.

They spent a ‘wonderful’ afternoon at the Leigh Park club.

To find out more about the club go to leighparkbowls.co.uk or call (023) 9245 0251.

Where to bowl

There are scores of bowls clubs across the area welcoming new members.

But nearly all say they would like to see more female players.

Out of more than 50 members at Leigh Park Bowls Club only 10 are ladies.

Here are the big clubs across the area:

Portsmouth

- Victory Bowls Association – Hilsea

- The North End Club – North End

- Southsea Waverley BC – Southsea

Gosport

- Bridgemary Bowling Club

Gosport Bowling Club

Havant

- Cowplain Bowls Club

- Purbrook Heath Bowls Club

- Bedhampton Bowls Club

Fareham

- Fareham Bowling Club

- Crofton Bowls Club

Health benefits

Lawn bowls is a great way of keeping fit and mentally alert.

Many doctors recommend the gentle sport to patients for staying healthy.

But it is not just physical benefits.

The sport requires a lot of mental agility too.

A US study revealed that playing bowls out in the fresh air helps alleviate depression and anxiety.

It improves problem-solving skills, co-ordination and concentration.

Arm, shoulder and leg muscles benefit from increased flexibility and endurance.

And participating in a sport helps improve self-esteem and gets you out and about and meeting people.

As the sport does not involve periods of prolonged and intense activity, it can be played by anyone.