Bowlers win back their club

Mt Pleasant Bowling Club president John O’Brien (centre) flanked by councillors Katy Mair and Margaret Sandford celebrates their great reprieve with club members and Melville Cares visitors. Photo by Steve Grant.

THE Mount Pleasant Bowling Club has hit the jack with a 21-year lease win approved by Melville council on Tuesday. 

The club’s future looked dire earlier this year when the council under former mayor Russell Aubrey voted to redevelop the land and shunt the bowlers off to Alfred Cove where they’d be forced to merge with the Melville Bowling Club.

But under the new regime, staff were told to rethink the council’s strategy to deal with declining bowling clubs and came up with a plan to offer Mt Pleasant a three-year lease; two nine-year options would then become available if it could prove its financial viability.

Marathon

During a marathon four-and-a-half hour debate, councillors Katy Mair and Margaret Sandford successfully moved an amendment to give the club an extended lease of 10 years with an 11-year option, saying the council’s original offer didn’t give them sufficient time to rebuild and effectively “set them to up to fail”.

The council also agreed to extinguish the club’s outstanding loan of $198,000.

When asked whether that might put pressure on the council’s rates, Cr Sandford said it could be looked at as compensation for what the club had been put through.

“The club was going into decline by no fault of their own,” she said. “They were losing members, they couldn’t hold functions and the morale of the club was going down.” 

With an almost 60-year history, MPBC currently has 270 members, with president John O’Brien saying they were aiming to increase this to 350 members by next June and 500 by the end of the 2022. 

Cr Mair said she and Cr Sandford also successfully fought for the club to be given a “community lease” as opposed to “premises lease” which meant the council would still be responsible for some upkeep, while the club would have to look after the greens.

“The previous lease terms were strictly just for bowling, but we got the use of the premises expanded to other community and recreational uses,” she said.

It wasn’t a complete win for the club, as the council voted to take over 30 per cent of the site to be developed into a community park. 

“We did argue to keep the 30 per cent because the club is growing and an expansion could have brought in more income,” Cr Mair said. 

Crs Mair and Sandford asked for the land to be used for sports such as netball, volleyball or pickleball, a hybrid of badminton, table tennis and tennis which was invented in the US in the 60s and according to Wikipedia has “exploded in popularity” in recent years.

But Cr Mair said the council tended to be biased toward the “big four” male sports footy, soccer, cricket and rugby and they “couldn’t get the numbers” to support a change.

Debt forgiven

The lease deal includes minor building improvements for the club, including a universally accessible toilet and a dividing partition in the clubhouse so that other users can hold gatherings without being disturbed by noise from the bar.

The introduction of new tenants Melville Cares and the Free Reformed Church has also boosted the club’s income and involvement in the community.

“The presence of Melville Cares has put life back into the club. The members have embraced them completely and they want to see more of them,” Cr Sandford said.  

Mr O’Brien told the Herald diversifying to make the club a multi-purpose site played a big part in getting the council onside.

“We’re trying to get the wider community to use the club,” Mr O’Brien said.

Mr O’Brien is also in talks with Australia Post to provide charging point for the posties’ electric bikes, to earn extra income.

The club has also faired well this year, with Covid-support from the council, JobKeeper allowances and functions and events turning a $7000 bank balance into a healthy 

$100,000 piggy bank. 

“Now with our added income sources from groups and support from the City of Melville, we can get back on track to being viable,” Mr O’Brien said.

by PIP WALLER

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