New hope that bowling centre could be saved

In an amazing turnaround Newton Stewart Indoor Bowling Centre may soon re-open – but only if the committee can raise £175,000 to buy it within the next few weeks.

The centre shut last October, leaving 200 local bowlers facing a round trip of 150 miles to Ayr to continue their sport.

The race is now on to raise the money, with the committee asking for pledges of cash from bowlers, businesses and the public to get their much-loved centre up and running again.

At a packed meeting in the bowling centre on Wednesday night it was confirmed that plans to sell the centre to a local businessman had fallen through and owner Murray Findlay has now offered the centre to the committee at a reduced price of £175,000, £45,000 below the original asking price – on condition that they come up with the money within six to eight weeks.

Last August it was announced that Mr Findlay was in the process of selling the centre to local entrepreneur Chris Cadman-Goodwin, who wanted to turn the premises into offices and a warehouse. This caused outrage among bowlers and community leaders at the loss of a well-used facility. But last week Mr Cadman-Goodwin’s planning application for change of use was dramatically withdrawn by his agent.

President of the indoor bowling club Alistair McMillan, who chaired the meeting, began by saying he was “astounded” at the turn-out, estimated to be close to 100 people, which, he said, indicated a burning desire in the community to have their bowing centre back.

Mr McMillan outlined the financial situation. Because running costs were high at around £32,000 a year, excluding wages, the meeting discussed increasing the annual fee from £45 to £80, assuming there would be between 150 to 200 members. However, the committee is confident it can reduce the running costs significantly. Two flats attached to the property also bring in about £7200 annually. The initial vote on who would pay £80 per year saw about two-thirds of people agreeing. The vote was repeated later, after discussion about the membership fees for golf and other bowling centres, and this time 99 per cent of people said they would pay the fee.

Financing the purchase could take time. An application for a facilities fund could take three months to process. The committee is also looking at funding related to the Com­monwealth Games, since bowls receives little compared to sports played less in Scotland.

A debenture scheme was then discussed as possibly the best way forward, with the committee giving out pieces of paper for those attending to write pledges on. They will now approach a commercial lender with a guarantee of the deposit of £35,000 and a business plan they are hoping Dumfries and Galloway Council will help form initially, and then aid them with the implementation of for two to three years. If this is accepted, they will then collect the pledged money, provide the deposit and get the funds to buy the centre. The money will be repaid to those who pledged at a later date. Mr Findlay has stipulated he wants final payment by April 24.

Bowling club member Keith Scroggs said they were looking for anyone in the community to contribute. If you want to help, contact him on 01671 403568.